Lower Back Injuries Lead to Disabled Firefighters

May 7, 2007
Trouble in the lower back might be from weak or untrained muscles.

Support of the lower back is very important. 

If you have had trouble with your low back, it might be due to weak, untrained muscles in your core.

Below is a discussion of things you can do to strengthen and prevent further and later back injuries. Do not start this workout if you are in the midst of a low back episode. Do not continue it if it makes you extremely sore, or sore for more than two days!

If you are in pain right now, you need to address that first. Please also consult with your chiropractor, orthopedist or family doctor to rule out pathology!

In order to protect your low back in awkward situation, I suggest training in four "ranges of motion". I will show and explain three very simple exercises to work: forward flexion, rotation, lateral flexion, and extension.

Forward Flexion and Rotation

Bicycle abs (See photo 1):
I find the best, fastest and most effective exercise to be bicycle abs. It works upper and lower abs, plus obliques. One can do these on the floor, or on a bench as shown here. Rotate and lift the upper body to touch the elbow to the opposite knee, and hold for one second. Exhale as you touch the elbow to the knee, and inhale as you cross the center to go to the other side. The other elbow should be below the level of the bench, allowing for maximum rotation.

Start with four sets of 50. Aim at 10 sets of 100 over several months. Yep - that's a lot. If you do a set of 50 (later work up towards 100) between sets of all your other exercises, its' easy to get done.

Extension (See photo 2):
The extensors of the low back can be trained either on a ball, as shown in photo 2. Lay on top of the ball, belly button at the highest point on the ball. Hands are behind your head. Feet in the corner where the wall meets the floor, toes out. Lightly squeeze the ball with your inner thighs, and take a deep breath. Lift up until your spine it totally straight, exhaling as you lift. Inhale as you lower. Try six reps the first time out. This exercise is difficult. Stop if your low back hurts! Work up to four sets of 20 over several months.

You can also accomplish the same on the hyper-extension bench in the gym.

Here's a picture of the hyper-extension bench, under event #3 on this site. Note, the bench in this photo is being used in lateral flexion. I intend that you use the bench face down here. You would hook the backs of your heels under the same place where you see my feet braced. Flex forward, arms over your chest. Come up only to straight. It is called a hyperextension bench, but DO NOT hyperextend. Come up only to straight/level with your legs/the floor. Hold for two seconds, and lower slowly.

Start with two sets of 10, and work up over several months to four sets of 20. You may add weight later. If your bench is at an angle, with your feet down, this exercise will be a lot easier, and you will need to hold a weight to your chest. By the way, this exercise and make your hamstrings really sore. Stretch them when you are done!

Lateral Flexion:
Look again at the lateral flexion bench picture here. As shown in this picture, your hip is right in the middle of the pad to the caudal end. There should be a split there in the bench for it. Your feet should be wrapped around the post at that end of the bench. Top leg should be back. Keep your range of motion small at first, and make it bigger over months as you get stronger. Start with a set of six on each side the first time, and see if you are sore the next day. Be very careful! Of all these exercises, this is the toughest one.

You can work up four sets of 12 on each side over several months. Since I started doing this exercise, I NEVER have low back pain any more. The musculature in my trunk simply won't allow my low back to go out! Try it, but listen to your body.

Most gyms also have this bench at a slant, or flat like I have shown here. The slanted one makes the exercise much easier! If you are a real beginner, start there! Please know your body, and exercise at your own risk!

We are made to have really strong ab muscles. So, I do 1000 bicycle abs every day if I can. (Thus the six-pack) If you get really sore, take a day or two off, and let yourself heal!

The other exercises are pretty tough and should not be done more than every other day at most. BUT: No less than two times per week.

Always stretch these areas out after training them!

I hope this helps!

Dr. Jen Milus, DC www.fireagility.com

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