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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ask Dr. K: Strengthening, stretching can help back pain

Anthony L. Komaroff Universal Uclick

DEAR DOCTOR K: My lower back has been giving me trouble. Could you describe some exercises to strengthen it?

DEAR READER: If misery loves company, you’ll be glad to hear that there are many people who have back problems. One large survey conducted by the government found that about one out of every four adults had suffered from back pain lasting at least a whole day in the previous three months.

The good news is that an exercise program designed to stretch and strengthen your back and core muscles can help you heal from back pain and help prevent a repeat episode.

Both strengthening exercises and stretching are essential. The bones of your spine (the vertebrae) hold you upright. They are stacked on top of each other like a roll of dimes. That stack is like a column, but the bones in that stack stay on top of each other only because the muscles attached to those bones keep them in proper position.

When those muscles are weak, changes in the position of the bones can cause pain. Nerves that run between the bones can be pinched, and ligaments that attach the bones to each other can become strained.

Stretching is important because sometimes the pain comes from the muscles themselves. As we get older, our muscles tend to stiffen up more. When a stiff muscle is suddenly asked to work, it can cause pain. If the muscle is gently stretched, it becomes more ready to work. Stretch gently, without bouncing. If you aren’t used to stretching, start by holding a stretch for a short time. Gradually build up to roughly 30-second stretches.

It’s not just your back muscles that need strengthening and stretching; other muscles also are important in keeping your back straight. Specifically, a stretching and strengthening regimen should target your back, abdominal and buttock muscles. Together, these muscles help maintain an upright posture and support the back during walking, standing and sitting.

The muscles of the upper legs also need to be strong and flexible. When they are weak and tight, they can strain the supporting structures of the back.