Why do so many of us suffer from lower back pain? “Overuse in the wrong environment,” says Auckland physiotherapist Ian Rainey.
“The two main factors are lack of mobility and lack of strength; coupled with poor posture.” Around 40% of his patients at his Otahuhu clinic come in with low back or neck pain.
Sitting at a desk or slumped on a couch puts pressure on the lower back and neck. Exercise is good for the back — if it’s the right kind and done in a controlled way. Walking is fine, and running too, although people can push themselves too hard as they pound the pavements.
“When they start running they may not have enough strength and mobility and endurance and they tend to overdo it,” says Mr Rainey.
We can protect ourselves from lower back pain, he adds, by strengthening abdominal and back muscles and by doing mobility exercises — stretching the back and lengthening tight muscles like hamstrings (at the back of the thigh).
Ian says a Swiss Ball is a good tool for exercising the back. “Humans are dynamic, we work in many planes of movement and the Swiss Ball is very good for that reason.”
The big balls can be used as seats. To sit upright on them you have to exercise postural muscles and smaller joint stabiliser muscles, all of which are great for back health.
The Swiss Ball originated in 1963 when an Italian manufacturer, Aquilino Cosani, started producing balls of vinyl instead of rubber. He developed a special technique for manufacturing these large colourful balls, later known as Gymnastik or Gymnic balls, and began selling them throughout Europe.
Dr. Susan Klein-Vogelbach, the founding director of the PhysicalTraining school in Basel, Switzerland, was the first to use these balls with the adult population, particularly with those individuals having orthopaedic and/or other medical problems.
It was American physical therapists who eventually coined the term “Swiss Balls” and today, athletic trainers, strength coaches and personal trainers use the Swiss Ball in their fitness and rehabilitation programmes, which they have designed for their athletes, patients and the general fitness population.
Simple Back Exercises
NB: Check with your GP before commencing exercise. If exercise causes persistent pain, stop it and see your physiotherapist or health provider.
Mobility stretches (daily and before exercise):
Lumbar extension: Lie facedown and slowly push up with the arms to arch the back, as far as you can comfortably go, while keeping the pelvis on the floor. Do this 15 times.
Hamstring stretch: Stand on one leg and place the other straight out on a raised support like a chair or bench. Keeping an arch in the lower back (backside out), bend at the knee on the supporting leg and feel a stretch at the back of the raised leg. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat up to five times with each leg.
Lumbar twist: Lie on the back, knees bent, feet flat on floor. Keeping both shoulders on the floor, let the knees drop to the right. Bring knees upright, then drop to left. Hold each side for 30 seconds and repeat three or four times per side.
Back-strengthening exercises (movements should be slow and controlled):
Abdominals 1: Lie on the back, knees bent, feet flat on floor. Hands at side or behind head. Slowly raise and lower head and shoulders. Repeat 10-20 times.
Abdominals 2: Same lying position but keep head and shoulders on the floor and bring knees slowly towards chest. Repeat 10-20 times.
Lower back 1: Lie on front, hands at side. Raise head and shoulders slowly up and down. Repeat 20 times.
Lower back 2: Same prone position, slowly raise and lower straight leg, left, then right. Repeat 20 times.