Many are looking for the perfect back pain exercise to promote balance, strength and flexibility. A number of exercises should be incorporated into your routine that encourage a strong core and stable pelvis to support your back.
The lunge is an important exercise for pelvic stability. Its benefits are threefold: 1) It strengthens muscles of the thigh, buttocks and hips; 2) It encourages integrated activation of those muscles; 3) It promotes the correction of common muscle imbalances.
When you perform the lunge, you’re engaging the hamstrings, quads, glutes and iliopsoas (hip flexors). These muscles are key players in the positioning of your pelvis. The spine is connected to the pelvis through the sacroiliac joints and a number of muscles in the hips. If the pelvis is misaligned, the spine’s curvature will be affected.
Muscle imbalance is a leading cause of back pain in the general population. Our daily activity – or inactivity – promotes imbalanced muscle groups. When we sit, for example, our gluteal muscles are compressed and weakened while our hip flexors are shortened. This creates an imbalance that pulls downward on the front of the pelvis causing it to tilt forward. Anterior pelvic tilt is a common postural dysfunction in the modern population due to long durations of sitting throughout the day. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that hamstrings are often weaker than quadriceps, which means that the downward pull on the front of the pelvis is increased.
Another common imbalance takes place between the inner and outer thigh muscles. The inner thigh muscles, called hip adductors, are needed to promote core, knee and pelvic stability, yet are not exercised thoroughly by regular daily activities which tend to favor the outer thighs. Also, many gym thigh workouts favor the outer thighs. This imbalance can cause gait problems, knee injuries, pelvic misalignment and back pain.
The lunge aims to strengthen all of the muscles in the thigh, butt and hips equally. What is more, this exercise retrains the body to move more efficiently. When performing a lunge, the muscles involved are being activated together. When you have a muscle imbalance, muscle memory causes the brain to continually fire the stronger muscle and neglect the weaker one. By activating the neglected muscles with the stronger ones, the lunge helps to break this bad habit.
If you have severe muscle imbalances, you may need to undergo self-myofascial release before lunging. If you have very tight hip flexors, for example, you don’t want to perform an exercise that tightens them even more. Make sure the muscles you’re working are flexible. Proper form is necessary to avoid back pain when performing the lunge. Most of all, make sure that your pelvis is neutral and your spine is straight. Avoid arching your back inward. Make sure not to bend in a way that puts your forward knee ahead of your toes; this will pull your hips and lower back forward.
To see proper lunge form and a number of variations on the exercise, refer to exercise.about.com.
The lunge is an excellent exercise for most people seeking to improve posture, strengthen their lower bodies and relieve back pain. Educate yourself on proper form and precautions to keep your workout pain-free.