Jun 15, 2011


Damn it. Lower back pain again. I used to really be plagued with lower back pain in my youth. It largely coincided with having a desk job which I have no doubt contributed to it. More recently it has not been nearly as chronic. And I think that is due to the eradication of the mid-life inner tube and more frequent exercise. However I always feel like I'm on the verge of doing my back in. I need to baby it. Unfortunately that's not always easy to do when you work out and sure enough yesterday I did a move (the Dreya roll) that I probably should have gone a little easier on.

So I'm tired of it and decided to do a little research. Actually a lot of research because most articles on back pain seem to run along the lines of conventional wisdom. "Strengthen your core", "stretch your hamstrings", etc. These sound ambiguous and like bullshit to me so I dug a little deeper.

Turns out there are a few key pieces of research that point to the multifidus muscle as being central to back pain. The multifidus muscle/s are a set of muscles that connect from the center of the vertebrae down 2 or 3 vertebrase to the side. Related are the quadratus lumborum muscles which connect the hip to both the lowest rib and some lower vertebrae. They are both stabilizing and support muscles for vertebrae.

The most interesting research was one conducted by a Danish scientist who showed that those people with better back endurance (not strength) had a lower rate of back incidents. The details aren't important since I think this is a case of more endurance equals better. I'm not sure there is any magic amount of endurance although the report suggests there is.

The back endurance was measured by patients performing a cantilever position. Their legs were strapped to a table. They were lying face down. Their upper torso was not supported by the table; just their legs. And they were asked to straighten their bodies (lift their torso horizontally) and hold that position. The paper says that 58 seconds was a good measure of strong endurance and low likelihood of lower back pain.

So I'm going to give this a try. So how do you build endurance in the multifidus muscles? Isometric exercises.

  1. Dog Pointers (easy) - Go into cat position on all fours. Lift opposing hand and knee off the floor but just barely. Enough to slip a magazine under them. Hold position.
  2. Hip Raises - Lie on back on the floor. Try to move your hip towards the middle of your back; hiking it up. Relax everything else. Hold position.
  1. Dog Pointers (harder) - Go into cat position on all fours. Lift opposing arm and leg off the floor so their are horizontal and straight; parallel with the floor. Hold position.
  2. Torso Cantilever - Same move as in the experiment.
I'm going to try this every morning and see how it goes after 6 months.

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