Using Your Leg Muscles More is Key for Helping Back Pain

By Sherwin Nicholson | SN Health Resources
lunges to relieve back pain

No gym necessary. You can easily do it around the home.

Why should we lunge to relieve back pain?

How can exercise for your leg muscles benefit your spine?

Shouldn’t I exercise my back instead of my legs?

Not really. The connection between using your leg muscles and the health of your back matters!  The driving factor for lunges and back pain is with your HIPS and LEGS.

In fact, it is a big mistake to strengthen your back as your first option because it is already tense and most likely strong enough.  It’s the rest of you that is the problem!  The Lunge aids to provide stability and support needed for your hip and pelvis.

Did you find that you may have cringed at the thought of having to lunge to help your pain?  Well, the sad news is that if you don’t like to lunge or even squat, then you most likely have back pain because of your neglect.  It may sound mean to say it but it’s the truth.

Remember this rule! The more active and stable your hip and pelvis are, the more stable your lower back will be.

By exercising with lunges, your hip muscles are activated and recruited to function to help your body remain upright, aligned and level.

The time that you had to lunge but didn’t want to

Do you remember what you had to do when you had that back spasm, pulled back muscle or really stiff back.  You know, when you needed to lean over or get lower to the floor in such pain but couldn’t.  Yes! You lunged to lower yourself! This is what you should be doing before any injury occurs in the first place.

Lunges are vital but often neglected

Unfortunately, lunges are the least performed exercises among the more popular leg exercises.  They are sometimes believed to be less as important to practice as squats, cycling or running as a choice for leg conditioning.   However, by adding lunges to your workout routine, you will be able to perform all of the exercises mentioned above more effectively, efficiently and with more power.

However, by adding lunges to your daily routine, you will be able to perform ALL activities more effectively, efficiently and with more power.

Almost every exercise and activity requires the healthy movement and power that lunges provide. 

Any activity that requires you to lower your body closer to the ground should incorporate lunges or squats at the very least.  In fact, we can avoid back injuries from many daily activities at home and away.

Avoiding the lunge will always come at a cost

Back pain is more frequent when you don’t train your body to lunge as you bend down.  Most of us would rather lean over or bend forward instead of bending at the knees and hips.  You can avoid back spasms by avoiding this bad habit.

If you do not have symptoms of back pain, your desire to bend at the knees or hips is even less frequent.   It almost seems as if we would rather expend the least amount of energy when we lean over.

If this is the case, then lunging would be less preferred than bending.  This, of course, comes at the expense of your lumbar discs, since bending causes the most injury of all possible movements.   After repeating this mechanically poor movement hundreds or thousands of time over many years, back spasm, disc bulge, rupture, and degeneration are very likely to occur.   A sure sign of this problem is pain in the morning.

leg muscles

What Lunges Exercise:

Rectus femoris

Vastus lateralis

Vastus medialis (not shown)

Vastus intermedius (not shown)

Gluteus maximus

The first four muscles make up the Quadriceps.  The Gluteus maximus should be the primary active muscle when you lower or raise yourself.  It is the glute that extends the leg muscle.

An active glute allows the pelvis to become stable and keeps your pelvis upright and aligned with your back.  By tilting at the hip joint and not the spine, you will reduce your risk of disc injury.

Lunges are very easy to learn and master with time.  With practice, you will find it more natural to enter into a lunge position instead of by bending over.   Initially, it will be difficult to perform because you have not been practicing this movement regularly.

You’ll find it hard to do at first because your glute muscles will feel very weak and unstable.

If you find that you are contracting your thighs more than the muscles of your buttocks, you are not properly activating the primary glute muscles in the lunge.  An inactive glute leads to many mechanical pain problems!

Steps to practice the Lungehalf-squat

If you currently have chronic back pain, chances are you will not be able to perform a lunge correctly.  You may even become discouraged and avoid it altogether.  Holding a squat position may feel tiresome.  To prevent this from occurring, start the following way.

  1. Start practicing by lowering your body as if to perform a half squat.
  2. Hold this squat position anywhere for a few seconds or longer depending on your endurance and comfort.
  3. Return to a standing position.
  4. Practice this frequently until you find it easy to perform.squat-down

Begin a reverse lunge by stepping backwards.  If you need to, keep your hands on a support to prevent from leaning to the sides excessively.   Try to lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor.

If you prefer, you can even lower yourself further to a kneeling position. Rest.

  1. Step upward with one leg to raise yourself back up to a squat.
  2. Bring the other leg forward and even with the other thigh.
  3. Stand up straight.

For those with well-conditioned leg muscles, this is a very easy task.  For those with chronic back pain, it is much more challenging.  The hips will not move evenly and level.  Many muscles will feel strained and weak. reverse-lungebThis weakness makes for an uneven movement causing one to lean off balance with raising and lowering.

Experiencing this problem is natural.  It will take time and practice before you will be able to lunge more effectively and easily.   The only way to improve the lunge over time is simply by lunging as often as possible.

Incorporate lunges into your everyday routine and you will find yourself doing it naturally and preferably.

When your legs become stronger, you can increase the difficulty of the lunge by stepping further apart as you lunge.  You can do this by stepping backwards with one leg further behind and even further to the side.

Don’t just stop at lunging!  There’s more to help you with your pain:

What you need to know about tight hip flexors and your back

Your glutes are a major pain in the butt and back

Do I really need to exercise when I already have back pain?

Sherwin, get me the program to help me lunge!

References:

Effects of Stabilization Exercises on Health-Related Quality of Life in Women With Chronic Low Back Pain. – Moussouli M(1), Vlachopoulos SP, Kofotolis ND, Theodorakis Y, Malliou P, Kellis

Low Back Pain in Athletes – Javad Mortazavi 1 ; Jayran Zebardast 2 ; and Babak Mirzashahi 1, *1 Joint Reconstruction Research Center, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, IR Iran2 Imam Khomeini Hospital Complex Asian Journal of Sports Medicine. 2015 June; 6(2): e24718 , DOI:

Exercise as a treatment for chronic low back pain – James Rainville, MDCorrespondence information about the author MD James Rainville Email the author MD James Rainville, Carol Hartigan, MD, Eugenio Martinez, MD, Janet Limke, MD, Cristin Jouve, MD, Mark Finno, MDmDOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016

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