December 12, 2011

Herniated Disks & My Favorite Back Exercises

"The Plank" is probably my favorite exercise, especially because I, like many woman, seem to be on a never-ending quest to firm up my core.  When I say the word "core", I'm not just talking about my abs, but the term also applies to muscles in the back, shoulders, and all throughout the torso.  These muscles help stabilize the spine, prevent injuries, and help improve posture.  Having strong core muscles also makes performing everyday duties easier, like household chores, lifting children or items, and bending over.
My mother has a lower back problem known as "herniated disks", which is where a fluid-filled sac surrounding the vertebrae is torn and the spine vertebrae rubs against another, causing pinched nerves, sciatica, and intense pain in the back and along the buttocks and backs of legs.  She has already had one back surgery to relieve the pain and pressure, and is going in for another surgery soon. 
Spinal disks degenerate naturally as we age, but the process speeds up for some people for various reasons:  a spinal injury earlier in life can possibly cause disks to degenerate faster, and also carrying excess weight on your body frame for years can also cause degenerative disks. 
Since my mother has back issues and the exact cause is still somewhat unknown, I have been trying to take precautions to protect myself against such back problems, in case I have a hereditary risk for developing this. 
So this exercise called "The Plank" (see picture above) is my favorite core muscle builder (among others) because it is a static exercise, which means you just hold it steady and do not have to do any tightening of loosening of muscles; you simply tense the muscle and hold it for as long as you can.  So, in my mind, the Plank is fairly easy to learn how to do and to perform it.  The real trick, of course, is making your muscles stronger so you can hold it for longer and longer!
I also like performing another exercise that I call the "Superman" because I lay on my stomach (face down on the ground) and use my lower back muscles to lift my shoulders up off  the ground, and hold that for as long as I can.  This puts the focus on my lower back muscles, to target them and strengthen them. 
What about you?  Are there any back exercises that you swear by?  What are your favorite back exercises?  Do you have any tips or advice for preventing herniated disks or back strain?  Let me know your thoughts and advice!  My tips and thoughts here are in no way meant to be exhaustive, and I only mentioned the exercises that I most prefer, and please speak with your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen! 

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