Back health? The back is one of the most important parts of the human body, but sadly it is also one of the most neglected. Back muscles give power to the body and connect the hips, buttocks, chest, shoulder and neck.
Why back health is important
Having good back health, that is to have strong back muscles, should not be viewed as a luxury but rather an obligation to sustain us for longevity.
Human beings are upright mammals. We use our back muscles all the time, no matter whether this is to lift an object, stand, walk or exercise. Just like the rest of your physical care, ensuring back health with a strong back will make your day to day life easier and less strenuous. Your entire body and the mobility thereof can be affected when your back is in pain. Most people never really think about using their back properly, so it is incredibly important to have good back health, especially if you have experienced back problems in the past.
Back care is an essential part of overall body conditioning. Perhaps you think you are doing enough because you exercise regularly? Whilst traditional crunches strengthen the outer layers of the abdominal muscles, they bypass the deep support structures of your back known as your core. Over time a weak core can lead to the spine being in too much flexion and contribute to back pain. By training the deep stabilisers of the lumbar spine, you are providing the preventative protection your back needs to be healthy.
What is your “core”?
The body’s “core” is made up of many muscles, not just your abdominals. The muscles known more commonly as the “core” are groups of muscles in the front and back of your body. The core muscles (shown in grey – see diagram) are responsible for stabilising and protecting the spine.
The anterior muscles (or those in front) are made up of:
- the anterior pelvic floor*
- transversus abdominus**
- obliques and
- the diaphragm.
* Pelvic floor muscles are the layer of muscles that support the pelvic organs and span the bottom of the pelvis.
** The traverse abdominal muscle is a muscle layer of the abdominal wall.
The posterior muscles (those at the back) include:
- the lats
- posterior pelvic floor and
- glute muscles.
*** The fleshy muscle which fills up the groove along the spine and vertebrae.
Higher up, your deep ‘neck flexor’ muscles and ‘scapular stabilisers’ play an important role in the stability of the neck and shoulder area respectively.
What is important to note, is how core exercises help your spine. Think of it like this: your “core” is like a tent held up by various lines pulling from all different directions. Slack in one line will cause tension in another. A strong core means that all the lines are working together equally!
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a controlled and restorative exercise regime that focuses on achieving stability of the entire body. This stability is accomplished in a co-ordinated manner by the ‘active’ muscles, the ‘passive’ spine and the ‘controller’ which is made up of our neurological or nervous system.
Pilates focuses on using our core strength, plus precise and controlled movement, to create more awareness about our body’s limits. By doing this, we can get the deep, stabilising muscles working properly and strengthened. In addition, Pilates promotes effective breathing patterns which help alleviate stress, which can be a major source of back pain. Conscious breathing provides inner focus, allowing you to become more aware of how your body and muscles are responding to external control.
When you do Pilates, you provide support for the lower back by:
- learning to work the deep pelvic floor;
- engaging the transversus abdominis;
- assisting with correct positioning of other parts of the lumbo-pelvic region.
Pilates basic principles include controlling several functions and body positions:
- how to set your pelvis correctly
- where to align your rib cage, as well as
- moving and balancing your scapular (or shoulder blade/s), leading to correct positions for your head and neck.
We’ve included a diagram of some exercises you can do to strengthen your back and relieve pain from tension and stiffness.
This article was submitted by Lauren Angus from the Paulshof Practice.