Exercises for easing back pain

LONG BEACH At the American College of Sports Medicine Conference in Long Beach, Dr. Mike Bracko cited ample reasons for back pain. Statistically, 80 percent of Americans will have back pain at some point in their lives.

Like when Brenda Barkey does chores. "I hurt my back cleaning out the kitty box," says Brenda Barkey.

Known as the most commonly injured body part, Bracko says people may feel their back just "went out," but that's not how it works.

"Your back doesn't just 'go out,'" says Dr. Bracko. "It's actually a series of what we call 'micro traumas.' So it's a series of movements or improper movements that lead up to the big back injury."

And pain doesn't discriminate. Back aches are earned by athletes, normal exercisers, and desk jockeys alike. Being sedentary also causes pain.

The tried-and-true solution? Strengthen both back and abdominal muscles by performing easy exercises that can be done at the gym, or modified for work.

Such as the "bird dog": lifting the opposite arm and leg while on all fours, lift up the arm and leg, then lower down again. Repeat 12 on each side, being mindful to keep stomach contracted.

Or a "plank": leaning on forearms and toes while contracting abdominals, holding for 20 seconds.

Along with "side planks": with legs together, turn onto your side, leaning on one forearm and the sides of the feet, to target the side of your core known as the obliques. Again, hold for 20 seconds, then switch to the other side.

Finally a so-called "cat and camel stretch": bend over with hands supported on thighs, alternating rounding and arching the spine, comfortably and free of pain.

The beauty of these moves is that you can modify them for work so they can be done in any type of clothing, pretty much anywhere. At work, do them leaning against a wall rather than getting down on the ground. At the gym, a light weight may be added when ready when doing the "bird dog."

How many times we should do them?

"Three times a week and to do them one time, like one set," says Dr. Bracko.

A set means performing each move a set number of times. Eight to 12 is a good rule of thumb per set. As you get stronger, work up to three sets.

While physically it might seem easy to park it at a desk all day, it doesn't "sit" well with your spine. But if your ego can't take the work exercises, at least get up and walk around every 50 minutes to give your back a much-needed break.


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