!-- 'Back' for the Future
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'Back' for the Future

When people think of getting buff, cut, etc., they often focus on the show muscles of the front of the body. In fact, a balanced physique is recommended, and that includes working the not-as-showy (but oh-so-important) muscles of the back.

The back accounts for a great deal of the body's 'real estate' and is part of an interconnected system that enables a person to move ('told you it was important!). This system includes the hamstrings, gluteal, hip stabilizers, flexors, and abdominals.

So, keeping the back in good shape for the present will go a long way toward keeping the whole body in good shape for the future.

The main divisions of the spinal column based on its curves and anatomical differences. The neck region, known as cervical vertebrae, is often subject to strain due to poorly positioned computers and generally poor posture in front of a computer, from a stationary tower at a desk to the pocket-sized mobile phone, portable video game, or similar gadget. Once the site of relatively few injuries in most people, repetitive motion injuries to this area are on the rise. The mid back, or thoracic region, also tends to experience comparatively few injuries. That's compared to the lower back, or lumbar region, which is by far the most common part of the back to experience injury. This is due largely to the amount of force it must withstand, and the torsion placed on area of the pelvis and the spine. Given today's largely sedentary work culture, it's important to realize that the act of sitting is harder on this region than is the act of standing.

Back pain, or dorsalgia, ranks as the second most common reason people visit a medical clinic in the United States. About 5 million people in the U.S. are disabled by back pain and over half of them are permanently disabled by back disorders. In addition, it is estimated that at least half of those who have back pain and/or injury will experience a back injury later on.

Swimming, walking, road cycling or spinning, using the Elliptical Trainer, or performing moderate rowing are all recommended excercises for people with back problems, provided they are cleared to do so by their physician.

Strengthening the back should be done just as is done for any other part of the body- gradually, and progressively with sufficient rest between workouts. There are a number of causes of back injuries, but some common culprits are tight hamstrings and weak abdominals. In order to stretch the hamstrings (or any muscle), make sure you: 1) go slowly, 2) isolate the tendons and muscles that are targeted to stretch, 3) hold the stretch at least 15 seconds (preferably 30 seconds) and put oneself into a "slight discomfort zone", not a pain zone or a bouncing pain zone.

Here are some other tips keeping the back in good shape in 'everyday' life:

  • Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes.
  • When standing for long periods, try to rest a foot on some low stool or raised surface. Also try bending backwards with your hands on your hips every so often.
  • When driving long distances, place a pad or pillow behind the small of the back and try to use the cruise control, if available.
  • Guys, take the wallet out of the back pocket when driving.
  • Try to take breaks often and walk and perform the standing lower back and hamstring stretch mentioend above.
  • When sleeping, try to do so on the back with a pillow underneath the knees. It is recommended to sleep on one's side and in the fetal position.
  • When seated at a computer, whenever possible use a chair that supports the lower back.


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2002. Vital and Health Statistics Series 10, No. 222 [DHHS Publication No. (PHS) 2004-1550]. Hyattsville, MD, 2004.

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