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Health and the City LOWER BACK PAIN

Stephanie Ross, in association with Virgin Active Barbican, looks into lower back pain, its causes, and the place core strengthening exercises have in helping prevent the problem in the first place

Stephanie Ross I 32

n 2010 the second largest cause of absence from work in the UK was lower back pain, affecting around 8 in 10 people in the UK, mostly between 35-50 years of age. Prolonged sitting and poor posture – including straining muscles when moving - are the main culprits. It costs UK businesses over £5billion each year and 50 million days of absence.

Since the 1950’s extensive research has been conducted into our muscles. Magnetic resonance imaging, electromyography and ultrasound have all been used to study them in detail.

One of the most common movements causing injury is twisting and/or lifting; like reaching for something at our desk or on the shelf at Waitrose and not being close enough to it, or pulling and pushing a vacuum cleaner, or even stooping over the sink to brush your teeth every day. Some of these moves we

just shouldn’t make but for others we must support the back muscles by strengthening and using our core muscles. As housework can exert such stress on our lower back we should never do it first thing in the morning (wait for two hours after getting up) and we should really stretch and warm the muscles up a bit beforehand. But even if we do exercise regularly, wherever that may be, if we don’t work and strengthen all of our many core muscles we still risk the minor but very painful injuries from sports moves or even the mundane movements mentioned above. Our core is cylindrical, the diaphragm is at the top (under the lungs) and the pelvic floor is at the bottom (exerts force when moving, among other functions). In between are: abdominals:- rectus abdominus (six pack – an important postural muscle that helps with lifting and exercising), transverse abdominus or

TVA (deep muscle that stabilises the spine and pelvis and works in harmony with back muscles like the multifidus – the small muscles running down the whole spine, stabilising it before moving limbs). Strengthening the TVA can help keep your abdomen flat and reduce pressure on your vertebral discs when lifting by up to 40%; internal and external obliques that fan out over the sides and help with bending and trunk rotation. Back muscles: around the spine and hips that maintain balance and stabilisation during movement like the multifidus (already mentioned), psoas (runs from lumbar spine to groin) and erector spinae (thick long muscles running the length of the spine, keeping it correctly aligned). Some people also include the gluteals and hamstrings because of their relationship to the hips.

When you have good core strength then the pelvis, lower back, hip and abdominal muscles work harmoniously, they support your spine for pretty much all movements, though sometimes we do have to remember to “engage” or tighten them. Virgin Active Barbican runs a selection of core strengthening fast classes every day. These are 30 minute sessions of varied short exercises with a fitness teacher designed to strengthen all of the core muscles “everything from nose to toes”, excluding arms and legs. It’s a functional workout that makes everyday life movements (lifting, reaching and stretching) easier. The instructor ensures that you

exercise according to your ability and with the correct posture. Because we all need a strong core

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