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Sit-ups and Back Pain


Why sit-ups are causing your back pain

Sit-ups should not be done. Period. One reason that that sit-ups are hard on your back is that they push your curved spine against the floor (flexing your lumbar spine) and engage your hip flexors. You can go to any local gym and see individuals performing sit-up after sit-up until nauseum in hopes of slimming their midsection. Whats even worse is the structured fitness programs which still include sit-ups as a mean of “working the core”. Whats wrong with the sit-up is that it reinforces flexing the lumbar spine. Movement around the hips when bending is what prevents disc injuries. When you bend and flex at your low back you are setting yourself up for an acute bout of low back pain, continued flexion at the lumbar spine and you are setting yourself up for a disc bulge.

Dr. Stuart McGill is a world renowned expert in low back disorders. What he found through his years of research is that crunches and traditional sit-ups place an enormous amount of compressive force on the spine when bent in flexion. These forces can squeeze a bent disc’s nucleus to the point that it bulges – pressing on nerves, causing back pain, and potentially leading to a herniated disc. One of the main conditions we see in our clinic is discogenic low back pain (pain that is caused by the vertebral disc), when you are doing a sit-up you are essentially compressing and flexing your lumbar spine, which is causing a tremendous amount of force on the low back, not to mention reinforcing BAD movements and posture.

Exercises to do instead of sit-ups

To minimize the risk of injury and stress placed on the low back below are four exercises which you should replace in your exercise regimen. All of them focus on core stability, neutral spinal position and avoid placing excessive sheer and compression forces on the back. A traditional sit-up not only is no where near a functional movement preformed in day to day life, it solely targets the rectus abdominus. Activities of daily living, as well as sports and recreational activities, call on your muscles to work together, not in isolation. A good core workout helps strengthen the entire set of core muscles you use every day.

Below are four exercises which you should add to your exercise regimen. All of them focus on core stability, neutral spinal position and avoid placing excessive sheer and compression forces on the back.

pallof press

Pallof Press

side plank

Side Plank

mcgill curl up

McGill curl-up

stir the pot exercise

Stir the pot exercise

The U.S. Army has started phasing out sit-ups and you should too

Military advisers now believe that sit-ups are dangerous, because they put too much pressure on the spine. The US Army has already put 10,000 soldiers through a pilot of a revamped physical-fitness test that excluded sit-ups. One study found that 56% of all soldiers’ injuries related to the old test were because of sit-ups. An editorial in Navy Times, which covers the US Navy, recently called for sit-ups to be banned completely. The article called them an ‘outdated exercise today viewed as a key cause of lower back injuries’. The Navy is said to be currently reviewing its fitness requirements. The US Marine Corps is also reviewing its physical fitness and body composition standards – in an attempt to improve fitness and reduce injuries.

The Behm Muscle & Joint Clinic Approach

New Patients are always welcome at Behm Muscle & Joint Clinic. Our Bellevue, Nebraska Chiropractic and Rehabilitation clinic provides the most up to date and evidence-based modalities to treat your muscle, nerve and joint pain. If you are suffering from back pain do not hesitate to give us a call at 402-292-1450 or schedule a consultation online.

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