In a past blog post, I’ve explained why stretching may not be the best solution to finding back pain relief (If you’d like to go back and read that post, click here). By popular demand, this article includes video to a few activation exercises you can do instead.
In short, the previous post explained that ‘tightness’ is not actually a mechanical property related to ‘shortened’ muscles (contrary to popular belief). Research indicates that it’s actually a sign that your nervous system is not comfortable operating in extended ranges of motion.
To give an example, let’s use the hamstrings. If you do a toe touch, you will reach a point that feels like you can’t go down any further. At that point, your brain is telling your muscles that it isn’t comfortable extending the range of motion any further. The brain is not used to operating in a deeper range of motion, and puts the brakes on in order to protect the body (the brain’s top priority is safety).
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You can compare this to how you feel walking into a dark, unfamiliar room. You’ve never experienced it before, so it’s likely the brain will cause you to exert extra caution or not go in the room at all. Our job is to turn the lights back on and get the body functioning properly again.
It's well known that back pain can be caused by a number of things going on in the body, one of which is when the brain/nervous system is not confident using muscles in the legs through a full range of motion.
When the nervous system is not confident here, the muscles become weaker in a lengthened state. When the muscles become weakened, more stress is put on the back during everyday movement, leading to pain. In order to develop strength through an extended range of motion, the nervous system must become comfortable using these muscles in the lengthened state (we call it ‘strength at length’).
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So how can we help the brain and nervous system to develop more trust in our muscles’ abilities in the lengthened state? We must contract the muscle in its lengthened state. By doing so, we re-develop the neuromuscular (mind-muscle) connection in extended ranges of motion, allowing the nervous system to become more confident.
So, rather than passively stretching the muscle (lengthening the muscle without contraction), I encourage our clients to add manual resistance through the full range of motion, displayed in my ‘Neuro Activation Exercise’ videos below.
In many (not all) cases, I find that our clients experience back pain because of issues in the hamstrings and hips. Chances are, that if you add these movements (3 hamstring exercise, 1 IT band/glute exercise, and 1 hip flexor exercise) to your daily routine, you may start to see improvement in your back pain symptoms.
The biggest key to performing these movements correctly is maintaining resistance throughout the entire range of motion – do not allow the targeted muscle to relax at all during the movement. I use my hands to apply resistance in the video, but a resistance band or towel works as well.
Questions about how to implement these movements to your daily routine? Please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. My goal is to help you overcome back pain and get back to performing at your peak, whether it be at work, in the gym, or on the field.
The 5 exercise routine - perform each movement 10 times on each leg. Click the name of each exercise to bring up a video that demonstrates the movement.
1. Medial Hamstring Activation
2. Central Hamstring Activation
3. Lateral Hamstring Activation
4. Glutes & IT Band Activation
5. Hip Flexors Activation
All the best,
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About the Author
Evan Lewis is a nationwide leader in Neuro Therapy and founded the Baltimore area's only specialist Neuro Therapy facility for people who want to stay active into their 40s, 50s, and beyond.
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