3 Core Exercises You Should NEVER Do With Back Pain
Pain in the lower back is caused by many factors, most of which are the result of disc herniation, damage to the spine, and compression of nerves.
Regardless of the cause, any program should be designed around reducing compressive loads on the spine alongside strengthening stabilizing muscles, AKA the core.
While the core musculature keeps the spine safe and stabilizes our entire body, there are certain exercises that can compound the issue of lower back pain.
1. Sit-ups and crunches
Sit-ups and crunches create large compression forces on the lumbar spine through flexion. That region of the spine is naturally in extension, and we’re now forcing it into flexion under resistance.
This creates shear forces that damage the vertebrae. Regardless of how you perform it, with bent or straight legs, these forces still exist.
The US Navy has even recently replaced sit-up tests, (which were used for years and years as part of fitness assessments) with planks after research confirmed that they’re heavily linked to lower back problems. (1)
Not to mention that they emphasize bad posture and neck tension. We spend enough time sitting and flexing forward that we don’t need to do it for our workouts too.
2. Leg raises
Performing leg raises with proper form actually causes little to no damage to the spine.
The problem is that doing them properly requires significant athletic ability. Muscular and mobility demands are much higher than people realize. It’s an easy exercise to mess up.
That being said, doing them with anything outside of good form creates massive lumbar flexion which, you guessed it, creates compression and shear forces on the lumbar spine.
Whether you do it with straight or bent legs, hanging or lying on the floor, the same principle applies.
Remember that the lumbar spine is naturally in extension. Supermans take this to another level and emphasize hyperextension of the lower back.
It causes immense compression of the vertebrae, even more so than the previous 2 exercises.
The idea of supermans has merit if you only look at the surface. Lumbar flexion is typically what causes lower back pain, so why not work the spine in extension?
Hyperextension does just as much damage if not more. Dr. Stuart McGill, a well renowned low-back expert, recommends that supermans should not be done by anyone in any form based on measured spinal compression forces. (2)
To keep things clear, yes sit-ups, leg raises, and supermans do work your core pretty effectively. But this fact doesn’t overshadow the possible damage it may cause. Even if you don’t suffer from back pain you may want to choose the alternatives.
Keep your spine safe. Too many people already deal with chronic lower back pain. There are plenty of safer options that not only do the same job but will keep you safe for the rest of your life.
To your good health,