What is the Foundation to your Spine?

As you should know, having an activated and strong core musculature can help reduce the risk of having low back pain and injury. These muscles help take the stress and absorb the force that is place throughout the low back region. But what muscles am I referring to?

This is a question I ask almost every patient with low back troubles. So, what are the muscles that make up your core?

The most common answer I get is the rectus abdominis muscle, which is otherwise known as the "sexy, six-pack abs". Other answers I get is the oblique muscles and other muscles covering the entire abdominal wall, front and back. Those answers are correct but only partially. Yes they make up the abdominal wall which protects and provides movement and stabilization for the lumbar spine and components of the digestive system.  But what is often forgot is your hamstrings, adductor muscle groups, and gluteal muscle groups.

Now, I know what you're thinking, how can my leg muscles be considered the core or protectors of the low back? Well this is where my analogy of laying a proper foundation to build a big, beautiful house comes into play. Whenever a house is being built, the foundation is the concrete that provides the bottom infrastructure which is properly mapped and laid down (aka your adductors, gluteal and hamstring muscle groups). This is the key component that has to be installed correctly. If this foundation, lets say is cracked due to an Alaskan earthquake, then the beautiful house (aka your lumbar spine) built over top can not be properly supported, resulting in potential catastrophic damage and destruction of your home.

This must be prevented and avoided!

3 Great Exercises to build your Foundation

Listed below are 3 great exercises to start on strengthening the foundation of your spine. The key tip to remember with all of these core exercises is to make sure your spine is in neutral spine position which translates to "straight spinal position". When consistent lumbar spinal flexion and extension are applied, aggravation of a lower back problem can occur, preventing recovery and causing chronic pain. This often presents in patients who are encountering a low back problem and often times is the reason they have a problem to begin with. In these 3 exercises, you notice how it requires you to maintain that neutral spine position while activating your true core musculature. 

Bird Dog

On the first 3 images above, you can see how the Bird Dog exercise is performed. This is a great exercise because it can serve as a base with a lot of options to progress and to challenge the patient more. Here are some tips to complete successfully:

  • Keep that spine straight when you alternate arm and leg motions.
  • Attempt to point your heel back, not your toes, when lifting the leg. This engages the hamstring and gluteal muscle groups more.
  • Hold each pose for 3 seconds. Standard repetitions and sets is 3 sets of 10 reps.

Side Glute Bridge/Glute Bridge

On the following images above, you'll see the side glute bridge being performed. Utilizing proper hip hinging technique while on the table is the key to executing this exercise. Other tips include:

  • Be sure your lower back is straight and the forward motion is coming from your hips
  • Hold pose at the top for 3 seconds
  • 3 sets of 10 repetitions is a good baseline to start!
  • Another option is the standard Glute Bridge which can accomplish the same goals!

McGill Curl Up

The last two images displayed show myself executing the McGill curl up! An alternative to the sit-up or crunch, the McGill curl up is a great exercise to activate your anterior abdominal muscles without involving excessive flexion and extension in the lumbar spine.

  • While lying down on your back, imagine that a string is attached from your chest to the ceiling as it pulls you up. Elevate once you feel your shoulder blades come off the table and hold for 3 seconds
  • Hands are placed under the middle of your low back
  • Point your chin directly to the ceiling so your eyes are looking approximately 45 degrees backwards. This prevents excessive neck tension throughout each repetition of this exercise

Are there more exercises that execute our goal of building a strong foundation and while maintaining a neutral spine position? Yes, many more! Some of those include:

  • Dead Bug variations
  • Planks and other variations
  • TRX exercises
  • Hip Hinge Drills

In summary, strengthening your foundation of your spine can lead to lesser instances of low back pain and is the basis of low back rehabilitation. Including this as a part of your treatment plan is essential for not only recovery but injury prevention. 

Are you struggling with low back pain? Contact us today to schedule an appointment at 907-349-4212! 


Bryan Matthisen, D.C.

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