Most of the time, we do not think about our everyday movements such as walking or sitting until we are not able to perform them. We don’t worry much about our backs and their crucial role in our ability to move or not. Back pain is not only an individual problem, but it is also a significant economic issue. A study revealed that every year 83 million working days are lost due to back pain. Additionally, more than 12 million dollars are spent in healthcare due to back pain. (1)
Back Pain Around the World
As many Americans are faced with chronic back pain every day, it is hard to believe that that is not the case in other parts of the world. This fact puzzled integrative therapist Esther Gokhalet when she was affected by back pain because of a herniated disk after her first pregnancy. So, she decided to research the absence of back pain in other cultures.
She observed that indigenous people living in small villages throughout Ecuador, Portugal, and West Africa never seemed to encounter back pain problems. Ester Gokhale concluded that the inhabitants of these back pain-free places possessed a “J” shaped spine rather than an “S” shape spine, common in America and most of the Western World. She concluded that this was because most people in these communities regularly engage in hard labor for long hours, lifting heavy objects, which seem to help them develop a stronger core. After all her research, Esther developed the Gokhalet method to help individuals achieve a back-pain-free life. (2)
Active with Back Pain
Most of the time, we associate back problems with lack of activity, a consequence of our modern sedentary lifestyle. Many hours sitting at a desk, in a car, or the absence of an exercise routine certainly can be risk factors to developing back pain. However, back pain can be experienced by people that have active lifestyles. For example, many athletes are known to experience back pain, even chronic back pain in some cases. Sports like football, basketball, soccer, golf, tennis, and running create a lot of stress on the spine. All the twisting and turning, absorbing pressure, and bodily impact increase the risk of back injury even in the best athletes.
Stress and Back Pain
It may be hard to believe that suffering from stress can cause you back pain. However, when stress is triggered either by thoughts or situations, the body experiences physical and chemical reactions while it attempts to protect itself from harm. Chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol are released into the body. In addition, an involuntary tightening of the neck, shoulder muscles, and spine occur. If this muscle tension is experienced frequently it can evolve into chronic back pain. In these cases, studies recommend that active individuals suffering chronic back pain due to stress-related causes can benefit from behavioral therapy, self-care together with back exercises, common analgesics, and acupuncture. (3)
Core Strength for Back Pain
Core strengthening goes beyond obtaining six-pack abs. Increasing strength in the core area of the body can prevent and ease back pain. Core muscles are located in the body’s midsection and are used for most movements. A stronger core can transfer force to the leg and arm muscles to increase effectiveness. In addition, the abdominal muscles support the back and spine. Consequently, a weaker core puts stress on the back, making it work harder.
Some efficient and straightforward core strengthening exercises are crunches, bridges, and planks.
Planking for Back Pain
Plank is one type of exercise that engages the whole body, which helps develop a stronger core and strengthens your arms, shoulders, back, glutes, and legs. Performing plank exercises can bring benefits such as:
Better Core Definition
When performing a plank, the transverse abdominis, the rectus abdominis, the external obliques, and the glutes are engaged. Working this large muscle area increases the ability to lift heavy weight, enhance sports performance, allows for more efficient twisting and bending, and builds strong buttocks and back.
Lower the Risk of Back Injury
While performing a plank, you are able to build muscle without putting extra pressure on the spine or hips. Plank exercise helps develop stronger back muscles, resulting in better support and stability of the back region, especially in the upper back.
Plank exercises can improve your posture, which helps joints and bones align correctly, helping them be better maintained. Better posture also means less back pain.
Plank engages some of the body’s largest muscles, burning more energy than other traditional abdominal exercises like crunches or sit-ups. Performing daily plank exercises boosts metabolism both while performing the posture and for the rest of the day too.
Improves Balance and Flexibility
Contrary to common belief, balance does not come from the legs but the core. Stronger abdominal muscles support your balance while performing physical activities or sports. Performing planks increase flexibility by expanding and stretching the posterior muscle group (shoulders, shoulder blades, collarbone), along with stretching the hamstrings, feet, and toes.
Plank pose has a calming effect on the nerves because it stretches muscles that build stress and tension when we spend a significant part of our day sitting. In addition, legs, thighs, and shoulder muscles get tense from sitting, causing your mind to stress.
How to Hold a Plank position
Performing plank exercises may be challenging initially, but it will become easier as you start building strength by practicing regularly. For plank pose, follow these steps:
- Place yourself on all fours.
- Bend the elbows and rest the forearms on the ground.
- Straighten the legs one at a time to create a straight line with your body, from head to heels, without sagging.
- Tuck the tailbone while squeezing the glutes and draw the belly inward.
- Gaze at the floor slightly ahead of you.
- Breathe slow and steady.
- Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds, longer if possible.
As you get more comfortable in your plank pose, you can also try some variations such as side plank or plank with leg lifts. Remember, it is also essential to enjoy the exercise to enhance your overall experience. Need back pain relief? Click here.