Bracing Muscles and the Arc of Stability to Prevent Low Back Pain

The BRACING Series: No. 2

By Sean M Wheeler, M.D.

Spine stability is an inherent component in the design of our bodies.  

We gain spinal stability throughout childhood and early adulthood.

As infants, we can only stand once we achieve the stability to do so.  As toddlers, we crawl until we gain the strength in our bracing muscles to walk and then to run

With spinal stability comes a smooth daily coordination and balance for each of us, that demonstrates the power and inspiration of the human body, similar to the awe many experience in watching a professional athlete.  Our ascent to stability continues until derailed by injury or by a shift from an active life to one that is more sedentary.

Back pain often accompanies a sedentary lifestyle. In a futile attempt to sidestep the pain,  we stand and walk differently.  We avoid using the very muscles designed to stabilize the spine - the bracing muscles

And now our back hurts. 

Once the bracing muscles are no longer doing their job, they rapidly atrophy.  These muscles weaken, the spine destabilizes, and the spiral of chronic back pain deepens.  

In research studies observing the effect of weightlessness in outer space on different muscle groups, astronauts were tested for muscle strength before and after a two-week trip into space.  Researchers found that, during those two weeks in space, action-muscle strength (the muscles that move us) decreased by 5 percent in the arms and 7 percent in the legs, while bracing muscle stabilization of the spine (the crucial endurance muscles) decreased by up to 70 percent.  

While in space, astronauts continued to exercise their action muscles daily, but they couldn't consistently utilize their bracing muscles because of the absence of gravity. 

Bracing muscle strength is easy to lose but challenging to recover.  As adults, we can't reproduce the conditions and movement patterns of childhood development.

To repair our bracing muscles in the aftermath of injury or atrophy we need to target them with site-specific strengthening exercises, which is the purpose of the STABILITY Series.

Stability Exercise #2: The Hip Hiker

The bracing muscle exercise viewed above is called hip hiker.

In this exercise, keep both legs straight with your knees locked.  It's important to understand the hip being strengthened is the one that stabilizes as the other hip moves. 

Do 25-50 reps on each side. As the STABILITY Series continues, remember that you do not have to do all the exercises at once.  Do a couple of different exercises for your bracing muscles each day and become expert at each exercise.

I will introduce another exercise next week.  

Dec 14 2016
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