Currently viewing the tag: "lumbar spine"

When it comes to strengthening the lower back, Pilates swimming mat exercises beat straight back extensions every time.  So says a recent study out of Brazil, which looked at Pilates mat exercises to distinguish which was the best exercise to increase strength and endurance of the lumbar spine paraspinal muscles (multifidi to be exact).  We know that by strengthening the spinal stabilizers of the low back–paraspinals and abdominals (the core)–chronic low back pain can be resolved and prevented.

The study involved measuring muscle activity during three Pilates mat exercises with surface electromyography (sEMG).  The three exercises were (all done face down):

  1. swimming (great video here)–essentially a cross-crawl pattern of lifting opposite side arm and leg while extending the back, alternating sides through several repetitions
  2. single leg kick–the subject’s back arched, supporting herself with forearms on the floor, flexing one foot then the other in a repeating pattern
  3. double leg kick–the subject moving from head and shoulders down and knees bent, to her back fully arched and arms extended behind her, and then back to head down/knees bent in an alternating manner

The results showed that the greatest activity of lumbar paraspinal muscles (an indicator of more efficient strengthening and stability) occurred in the swimming or cross-crawl pattern.  This study confirms that, at least for strengthening and stabilizing the low back, a cross-crawl pattern is superior to same-sided (ipsilateral) movements, or contracting both sides together.  Why?

Cross-Crawl Pattern

It’s because the cross-crawl pattern actually simulates the way we move.  Muscles of the low back and pelvis fire in an alternating pattern, going from glut to opposite side paraspinals to same side paraspinals, in that order.  When we become lax or de-conditioned in this region–watch out!–chronic low back pain.  In fact, studies show that weak paraspinal muscles are a good indicator of future low back pain.

This study’s upside is that we have a good indication of which movements of the lumbar spine are most functional–again, the cross-crawl.  The downside is, we don’t know if Pilates mat exercises are more effective than using the Roman chair or machines.  My feeling is they are–Pilates mat exercises most closely resemble our natural movements; this leads me to believe that the exercises done in the natural lumbar range of motion will have the greatest contractile strength, and thus the greatest increase in the endurance of the muscles.  Although the Roman chair and machines undoubtedly strengthen low back muscles, the very nature of their low-functionality (we don’t really do those movements naturally) probably makes them poor endurance building exercises comparatively.

Low back pain can be caused by tight hip flexors.  The hip flexor muscle group is made up of the psoas, iliacus and rectus femoris (part of the quadriceps) muscles.  When tight, they pull the low back into a hyperlordosis, or an over-arch.  This causes pressure on the lumbar disks, leading to pain and stiffness of the low back.

The hip flexors can be loosened with a simple runners stretch.  You can do this at home finding complete low back pain relief, or it might be a good temporary fix before you get in to see your sports chiropractor.

Watch the video below to see the proper way of stretching the iliopsoas, or hip flexor complex.  If you need a good Los Angeles, Beverly Hills or West Hollywood sports chiropractor, check here.



Low back pain can have many sources–organic disease, herniated disks, and over-worked muscles can all cause pain in the lower back.  One factor that many people are unaware of are short, tight muscles.  The hamstrings are one such muscle group that can cause low back pain.

The hamstrings attach to the bottom portion of the pelvis, the ischial tubes, or “sit bones” as they are called in yoga.  When the hamstrings get tight, they pull downward on the sit bones, which in turn causes the pelvis to rotate backward.  As a righting compensation, the lumbar spine (low back arch) will decrease its natural arch and flex somewhat forward causing a straightening of the lumbar curve.  This straightening increases the compressive forces of the intervertebral disks, causing stress, pain and risk for disk herniation.

One simple answer is to stretch your hamstrings–but NOT like your PE teacher taught you in the sixth grade.  Reaching down to touch your toes merely increases the pressure on the lumbar spine–this can cause a herniated disk in susceptible people.  If you’ve ever heard somebody say that they’ve “thrown out” his or her back by bending over to pick something up, tight hamstrings was very likely a part of the equation.

This does not have to be you.  The solution is stretching your hamstrings regularly.  When it comes to stretching the hamstrings, there is a right way and a wrong way.  Watch the video above to learn the proper way to stretch your hamstrings.  If you are suffering from low back pain and need a chiropractor in Los Angeles, West Hollywood or Beverly Hills, please visit my sports chiropractic office to get low back pain relief.

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