Low back pain (LBP) is a very common problem on the construction site. In fact, about 80% of people will experience at least one episode of LBP in their lifetime. Not only does LBP affect our ability to play with our kids and to do things around the house after work, but LBP is one of the most common reasons for lost time at work. In the US, over $100 billion is spent both directly and indirectly due to Low Back Pain each year. This is a huge number but we all know that WHSCC costs, loss of skilled workers, finding replacement labour, and direct medical costs can add up fast. Not to mention the personal cost to the one who is injured. For these reasons, it is important that the prevention of these types of injuries is in focus; not only for employers and Health and Safety personnel, but with each individual worker.
When treating Low Back Pain, I always recommend exercises for the spine. For patients who have strenuous jobs like those in the construction industry, this comes as a surprise. They all have very strong backs, and are used to lifting heavy loads. However in the large amount of research done on low back pain, poor endurance has been shown to lead to more LBP than poor strength. The reason for this is the large muscles responsible for lifting things are separate than those small muscles that hold the back stable and your spine in line as you go about your day. If these small muscles become fatigued, you will be more at risk of an injury because your spine will not be properly braced to do the work it needs to.
To increase the endurance of the spinal stabilizers, it is best to train them by holding a neutral spine for increasing periods of time. Here are a couple great, and simple, exercises for training your spinal stabilizers
Get down on the floor, face down. Come up on your toes and forearms, like in the picture below. Keep your stomach pulled in, stomach muscles tight, and breathe normally. Hold this position until you start shaking a lot, or you feel like you are unable to keep your hips on a straight line from your head to your feet. Hold this position for 30 seconds for three sets.
Laying on your side and resting on your forearm, lift your hips up so that only your forearm and your lower leg touches the ground. Keep your stomach pulled in, stomach muscles tight, and breathe normally. Imagine a straight line going from your nose to your belly button, that is how high your hips should be. Hold this position until you start shaking a lot or you are unable to hold your hips up any longer. Once you can hold this for three sets of 30 seconds, progress a full side plank by only allowing your feet and forearm to touch the ground.
Kneel on the floor with your hands placed firmly about shoulder width apart. Keep your stomach pulled in, stomach muscles tight, and breathe normally. Practice lifting one hand and the opposite knee an inch off the floor while balancing on the other hand and knee. Once you get the hang of it, point one arm straight out front and extend the opposite leg to the rear. Hold this position for 10 seconds and then alternate sides. Repeat this three times
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Dr. Jeff Marshall, BScKin, DC