Core Competency for Back Health

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Low back pain is one of the most frequent ailments that comes through the door at Thompson Family Acupuncture clinic. We treat low back pain from various etiologies: old sports injuries, motor vehicle accidents, to over-use from labor jobs and under-use from desk jobs. Regardless of what brings on the back pain, core strength and functional mobility are helpful in preventing and treating back pain.

The following are helpful exercises and stretches that are useful for most back pain sufferers. If you are in acute pain (you just recently injured your back) or have conditions such as a herniated disk or degenerative disc disease, check with your healthcare practitioner before engaging in new exercise routines.

Stretching the Psoas

While most people think of planking or abdominal crunches for core strength, it’s important to consider mobility of the spine when looking at back health. The psoas is a muscle running from the 12th thoracic vertebra to the trochanter (top of femur bone), meeting up with the iliacus muscle. Together, then help flex the hip, laterally rotate the thigh, and flex the torso. The iliopsoas often becomes tight and weakened due to prolonged sitting in chairs, like one with a typical desk job. Stretching the psoas through lunging, especially emphasizing an upright spine, is wise to do daily if you sit in a chair most of your day. Functional crawling is a good way to strengthen this muscle.

Planking – You know it had to be in here!

Planking, people either love it or hate it, but it’s a very effective and functional exercise for core health. While abdominal crunches tend to reinforce tight hip flexors and a “hunched” position a sedentary lifestyle is already mimicking, planking emphasizes core stability, while elongating the spine. Some tips for modifying intensity on your planks:

  • With wrist troubles, do plank on your forearms.
  • If no wrist weakness or pain, plank on your hands. Be sure to press through the base of the index finger to protect the wrist.
  • If you’ve got the plank down, add slow and controlled knee-to-elbow touches, one knee at a time, for a great addition. Or, check out this fun 3 minute plank variation video.

Squatting using your core

Proper squatting form is one of the most underappreciated, yet functional ways to utilize core strength and stability. However, you have to hone your squatting form in order to utilize your core, which you’ll want to do, because when you’re using your squat to lift something heavy (in real life!) you want to engage your core in order to protect your back from injury.

One easy way to start building your proper squat form and build core strength is by doing “chair pose” on the wall. Do you remember the wall sit from gym class? Basically you’re standing against a wall, and sliding your back down until it your knees are at 90 degree angles, knees not going over toes. Your lower back will want to lift off the wall. Instead, pull your naval to spine, and feel like your tailbone is reaching to the ground. Your back should be flush to the wall. Hold this position for 30 seconds, and work your time up every other day until you’re able to hold for several minutes.

Bottom line

From basic to complex, there are many ways to strength your core and increase your mobility. The aforementioned are simple ways to get started. By increasing time and frequency, you can adapt the exercises to your fitness level. Core stability and strength can not be emphasized enough as a key component to not only back health, but functionality of your body throughout life. With modern lifestyles, we have to put more emphasis on actively working the core, as many functional movements that would have strengthened it are no longer in our daily physical patterns.

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Amanda Johnson (AJ) practices at Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. She loves to show patients how Chinese medicine is fantastic at relieving body pain, aiding recovery and enhancing vitality. When not in the clinic, she will be out hiking, cycling, or playing in the water. 




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