Exercises and Methods to Prevent Back Pain

Exercises and Methods to Prevent Back Pain

Exercises to Help Prevent Back Pain

Back pain is among the most commonly endured injuries, with lower back pain defined as the most common musculoskeletal problem globally. Ranging from mild to severe, back pain has a lifetime prevalence rate of 65%.

With several ways to treat and manage back pain, it can be difficult to decipher which to pursue as a means of initial action. Whichever path is chosen, however, movement via exercise and stretching at some point of the process will be a necessary intervention to manage or prevent such pain and discomfort.

In what follows, we’ll be discussing all things back pain and how to prevent it from occurring in the first place. More specifically, we’ll be sharing insight into some of the most common causes of back pain, the most effective treatment and preventative exercises to combat back pain, and the importance of exercise and stretching for building back strength and resilience.

Back Pain

A main reason that back pain is among the most commonly endured injuries and the most common musculoskeletal complication globally is that it can occur in multiple scenarios and circumstances. Some examples of these scenarios include poor posture, obesity, inactivity, heavy lifting, overtraining, and subtle but sudden everyday movements.

The back is very vulnerable to injury. Even the simplest actions can trigger an inflammatory response in some area of the back. In addition, back pain can also develop from other physiological health conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis.

The problem that leads to most instances of back pain is a strain or sprain of the muscles, tendons, or ligaments of the back.

Because the back carries much of the body’s load and many neglect to strengthen the core musculature to support such a load, the back is often placed in compromised positions to get injured, resulting in back pain.

The Most Common Back Injuries

The most common back injuries occur in the muscles supporting the lumbar spine, the latissimus dorsi, and the rhomboids. The muscular injuries are strains and tears.

Injuries involving the spine include sprains of ligaments, herniated disks, and fractures of the vertebrae. A more specific condition that can occur in the cases of herniated disks is the condition of sciatica, which is when a bulging disk in the lumbar spine impinges the nerve root that exits the spinal cord and branches into the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs down the back of the leg, and the impingement caused by the disk at the spine “shoots” painful nerve impulses down the sciatic nerve.

The following is a summarized detail of the most commonly reported back injuries.

Sprains and Strains

Whether via heavy lifting or unnatural body movement, the muscles and ligaments of the back and spinal column can be sprained or strained. A back sprain or strain is excessive stretching or tearing of a ligament or muscle.

Herniated Disks

Herniated disks occur when the disk, which is the jelly-like soft tissue between the vertebrae that cushion the axial load of the spine, begins to bulge or rupture. The pain of herniated disks is the result of the pressure that it places on the adjacent nerve.

Vertebral Fractures

A vertebral fracture is a dislocation or break of the vertebral bone and is typically caused by a traumatic injury from sports, vehicular accidents, or significant falls. In most cases, this is not a preventable injury since it is accidental.

The best way to prevent or lessen the blow of a back injury is to strengthen the surrounding tissue to ensure that it’s the strongest, most prepared, and most resilient when an injury occurs.

The Best Exercises for Back Strengthening

The healthiest, most effective strategy to combat and prevent back injury and pain is through exercise and strength training that targets specifically the core and posterior chain.

Targeted exercises that avoid placing the back in a position of weakness decrease the risk of injury and are essential for preserving a healthy back.

Using this thought process, one might consider the option of resistance training versus free weights. The safer option is a machine that creates a controlled movement and trains the untrained body to perform any given movement correctly.

Further, a machine prevents the potential for traumatic events during exercise that could easily happen with free weights. These points should be considered when choosing the proper workout method for the back.

Below are some of the best exercises for strengthening back musculature, reducing the risk of back injury, and thus helping to prevent back pain.

Note that it should be understood that the following exercises are not to be utilized for an injured back. Instead, they should be used to strengthen the back to prevent injury.

The Plank

Though not typically viewed as a back exercise, the plank seeks to work the entire core of the posterior chain. Since a weak core is often a primary contributor to the root causes of back pain and injury, strengthening it can help prevent injury and pain.

The Squat

Another exercise not typically associated with the back, the squat, is an incredible compound lift that strengthens the lower extremity and the entirety of the posterior chain and helps reduce the risk of lower back pain. Whether air squats, barbell squats, goblet squats, or others, be sure to master the technique before adding weight to ensure injury prevention.

Dead Hang

At first glance, the dead hang is a lazy man’s favorite stretch. Upon a deeper look, however, the dead hang is an incredible strategy for decompressing the spine, and lower back, releasing any tension that’s cause for concern when it comes to the onset of back pain. It also happens to train core stability, core strength, and back strength.

Plyometrics

Plyometric exercises involve rapid, powerful movements that are explosive in nature. Though it’s important to isolate the back musculature so as to strengthen it and its surrounding areas, it’s also important to provide the spine with an environment of controlled instability. This will teach the spine to be resilient and respond to alterations of movement, thus reducing the risk of injury should a traumatic event or unusual movement occur.

In addition, general activities such as walking, swimming, water aerobics, and even yoga can act as an effective preventative or management method for back pain.

Final Thoughts

One of the most effective methods of back pain prevention, as noted in a meta-analysis of 25 major studies, is regular physical activity and exercise. Through the use of specific techniques to safely exercise the back, preventing injury and pain can be achieved.

Hip Flexors and Their Importance

Hip Flexors and Their Importance

Hip Flexors and Their Importance

For both athletes and non-athletes, hip flexors are among the most injured regions of the body. Unfortunately, they also happen to be among the most neglected muscle groups during exercise.

Yet, interestingly, the hip flexors play several vital roles in athletic performance and general day-to-day activities. Even though these muscles tend to be almost ignored, they maintain an important purpose in preventing other injuries and improving overall physiological health.

In what follows, we’ll define the hip flexor muscles, their roles in physiology and movement, and why they are so important to physiological health and performance. We’ll also touch on hip flexor injuries, their causes, and what can be done to treat these injuries and prevent them.

Hip Flexors

Defined as a group of synergistic muscles located toward the front of the hip, hip flexors primarily aid in the fluid movement and flexion of the hip and knee while also providing balance and posture to the pelvis.

Comprising several muscles, the hip flexors include five major muscle groups, otherwise known as prime movers and synergists for hip flexion. The two prime movers are the psoas and iliacus muscles, and the three synergists are the rectus femoris, pectineus, and sartorius muscles.

Psoas Muscle

Extending through the pelvis all the way to the femur, the primary function of the psoas muscle is to contract during hip flexion, allowing the upper legs to lift towards to upper body.

Iliacus Muscle

Anatomically proximal to the psoas muscle, the iliacus muscle allows for muscle flexion and rotation of the femur. Its primary function is to aid in the postural alignment of the spine such that the entirety of the body maintains proper posture.

Rectus Femoris

Performing two major functions of the quadriceps and hips, the rectus femoris runs down the entirety of the thigh and aids in the function of hip flexion and knee extension.
The rectus femoris is also the most commonly injured hip flexor muscle, responsible for over half of all hip flexor injuries.

Pectineus

The pectineus is located in the inner thigh and primarily promotes general balance and spinal alignment for postural purposes. Its main function as a hip flexor muscle is to aid in the adduction of the thigh.

Sartorius

Notably, the longest muscle in the body spanning through the hip and knee joints, the sartorius, too, functions as a hip flexor while also allowing for external rotation of the leg and adduction of the thigh.

Hip Flexor Injuries

Like most injuries, hip flexor injuries can range from mild to severe and will be more likely with specific activities or sports. The hip flexors are often the easiest regions of the body to injure, especially in kicking sports.

At its most mild, hip flexor issues can occur secondary to long days spent sitting, which leads to general stiffness and tightness throughout these muscles. At its most severe, however, hip flexor injuries can be the result of traumatic events in competitive sport or from general overuse in certain activities, ultimately causing strains, tears, tendon injury, or bursitis.

The most common symptoms involved with hip flexor injuries include groin pain, hip pain, and back pain, as well as swelling in the area of the injury.

While prevention is the best medicine, physiotherapy is an excellent solution for those who’ve already suffered such an injury.

During such a regimen, a physiotherapist is likely to initiate the treatment with a knee and hip assessment to understand its existing mechanics and identify where to improve, whether via mobility exercises, strength exercises, or both. Other types of physiotherapy can include soft tissue mobilization, electrotherapy, or cryotherapy.

Other potential hip flexor injury treatment regimens may include over-the-counter medication, home remedies such as contrast therapy, and stretching. With some injuries, surgery to repair the injury may be necessary.

The Importance of Hip Flexors

Evident in the particular location of these muscles, the hip flexors are of primary importance in the natural movement and flexion of the hip and knee while also providing balance, stability, and steady posture throughout.

Similar to that of the core, the hip flexors, when fully functioning, work to protect the lower back and spine from injury. A clear method to avoid lower back pain is to avoid hip flexor injuries.

Critical elements of the simple acts of walking, running, bending, and squatting, the hip flexors allow for optimal physiological function in everyday life, not to mention elite athletic performance.

It’s important to maintain good function of the hip flexors for normal activities. In addition, if you want to improve your health with exercise, improving optimal function of the hip flexors will improve overall efficiency of any exercise and help prevent many injuries.

Final Thoughts

Among the most common causes of preventable injuries and poor posture, hip flexor injuries, too, can be prevented. This can be accomplished through diligent and proactive preventative exercises that target hip mobility, knee flexion, and overall hip strength.

The importance of strong and mobile hip flexors, then, can’t be denied and must be prioritized, both for longevity purposes and athletic performance purposes.

The Nutritional Value of Protein Smoothies

The Nutritional Value of Protein Smoothies

Nutritional Value of Protein Smoothies

More and more research is being released on the benefits of protein consumption. While it’s long been known that protein is essential for muscle growth and repair, only in recent years has it become popularized for its abundance of other health benefits.

Yet, some controversy exists over the idea of protein supplementation and its function in helping achieve adequate amounts of protein. While some view protein supplementation as an inferior and all-but-ineffective sales gimmick, other experts view protein supplementation as an effective alternative for consumption.

In what follows, we’ll be discussing protein as a macronutrient, its primary functions, and its many potential health benefits. Further, we’ll discuss protein supplementation and detail the advantages of protein powder and its many variations. Lastly, we’ll explore how dietary protein smoothies and shakes can aid as a healthy alternative in many dietary regimens.

Protein 101

Protein is one of three macronutrients essential to the function and survival of the human body, and more specifically, the bones, muscles, skin, and blood. This key macronutrient is often referred to as being the building block of life.

Protein is composed of chemical compounds known as amino acids, and it is broken down and absorbed efficiently during the normal digestive process. The end result of this digestive process boosts the immune system, improves cellular health, builds lean muscle tissue, improves athletic performance, and provides energy.

Studies of protein have identified that when consumed in optimal amounts, it may aid in reducing risk factors for osteoporosis, heart disease, and other major health complications.

While protein can and should be consumed primarily through whole foods, sometimes supplementation may be necessary, especially for athletes or extremely active individuals whose protein requirements are greater than that of less active individuals.

Potential Health Benefits of Protein Powder

When the body isn’t provided with adequate amounts of protein on a daily basis, optimal functioning of the human body diminishes. Thus, for all individuals, striving for optimal protein consumption is essential. For those who have difficulty consuming sufficient amounts of whole foods, protein supplementation is necessary to reach adequate levels.

The following are some of the most commonly reported and researched health benefits of protein and protein powder supplementation.

Weight Loss

While protein is often thought of as an alternative fuel source to carbohydrates and fats, it also acts as an effective appetite suppressant, increasing satiety and reducing food cravings for longer periods of time. Thus, protein aids in weight loss by influencing the number of calories consumed throughout each day, and it also boosts metabolism.

Muscle Growth

Combined with consistent resistance training, protein powder supplementation also aids primarily in lean muscle growth via a process known as muscle protein synthesis. Through muscular repair and recovery, protein also allows for maximal effort and athletic performance, reducing the risk of injury, and allowing for consistent and intense efforts during the resistance training regimen.

Energy Production

As suggested in a study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, protein supplementation resulted in less fatigue during exercise compared to those who didn’t supplement with protein. Thus, those who consumed protein shakes experienced greater energy and output.

Immunity

Research also suggests that consuming adequate amounts of protein, whether through whole food or powdered supplementation, boosts immunity and provides a means of both illness prevention and management.

Skin Care

Finally, protein powder supplementation acts as a natural moisturizer for dry skin and an alternative solution for acne-prone skin and other skin imperfections.

Common Types of Protein Powder

According to the FDA, dietary supplements are those products that provide nutrients external to a whole foods diet, including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, probiotics, prebiotics, and other beneficial enzymes.

By definition, protein powder is a dietary supplement that provides the body with essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, allowing optimal recovery, repair, and function of the body.

The most commonly consumed protein powders are those derived from animal-based sources. These sources include whey protein, casein, and collagen, found in dairy products such as milk and cheese and animal tissue. Other animal-based protein powders include beef protein powder, egg-white protein powder, and other grass-fed powders.

In addition to the more popular animal-based powders, protein powder can also be derived from plants. Some common types of plant-based protein powders include soy protein and pea protein. These plant-based proteins tend to be less expensive and contain less protein, overall calories, and fats than that of animal-based protein powders.

Pea protein powder, unlike other plant-based protein powders, is a complete protein source that contains all nine essential amino acids. Both digestible and good tasting, pea protein is the superior option for those looking for an alternative to animal-based products. In addition, it produces similar recovery and repair benefits to whey protein and has been highlighted in research to help prevent chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Final Thoughts

Whether the goal is weight loss, muscle gain, or improving overall health, high protein diets have proven integral to achieving this goal. Though a whole foods diet is the optimal path, protein powder shakes are an effective and convenient alternative source of protein.

A Guide to Intermittent Fasting

A Guide to Intermittent Fasting

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Though the practice of fasting has been around for centuries primarily for religious and ceremonial purposes, it’s only become a popular health and wellness practice in recent years.

Simple in its explanation but difficult in its execution, fasting is the act of restraint from consumption for a given period of time. In the most extreme of circumstances, fasting can last days, with no food and only limited drink allowed to be consumed. Among the most popular fasting protocols is intermittent fasting.

In what follows, we’ll be discussing what intermittent fasting is, how it works, what types there are, and how the body responds to this process. Further, we’ll share strategies for managing hunger while in a fasting state. Finally, we’ll discuss its many benefits, including weight loss.

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is a popularized fasting protocol whereby there’s a window of allowable time for consumption and a window of restriction where no consumption is to take place.

The idea of using fasting in this protocol is based on the fact that by prohibiting the consumption of food for several hours, the body eventually exhausts itself of glucose, using it all for energy during the fasting session.

As a result, the body then begins to burn fat for fuel and, in the process, switches the body’s natural metabolic process to a weight-loss-promoting process.

Though it’s yet to be determined which method of fasting is most effective, the majority of the research has been done on the 16:8 method of intermittent fasting.

The following are the most common types of intermittent fasting.

The 16:8 Method

Offering a window of 8 hours for consumption and 16 hours for restraint, the 16:8 method is likely the most practiced of fasting protocols, not only for its low barrier to entry but for its proven benefits. The typical schedule for this protocol is beginning the eating window at noon and ending it at 8 p.m., and then running the restriction window from 8 p.m. to noon the following day.

The 5:2 Method

While the 16:8 method is a way of breaking down a 24-hour period, the 5:2 method is a way of breaking down a one-week period. In the protocol, five days are to be carried out with usual consumption, and two days are to involve a 500-calorie consumption limit.

Prolonged Fast

Whether for 24, 48, or 72 hours, or anything in between, a prolonged fast is an intermittent fast that lasts up to several days without consumption of food and/or water.

The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Although the research on intermittent fasting has yet to show that its benefits are superior to that of other dietary protocols, it’s an undeniably valuable tool, particularly for those seeking to lose weight, reduce body fat, or simply live a more conscious and intentional lifestyle.

Similarly, while it might sound counterintuitive to ignore the lack of research on the subject, the anecdotal evidence is quite convincing in considering the validity of the method.

It is a superior strategy for those who’d prefer to avoid the tedious practice of calorie counting during weight loss, and it’s also an excellent natural appetite suppressant. In addition, it’s a very efficient strategy for energy production. While it might take 1-2 weeks for the body to adjust, the results can be profound once adjusted.

Intermittent fasting also has several other health and wellness benefits, and these vary from person to person and depend on the consistency of the fast. The following are some benefits seen.

  • Mental Sharpness and Acuity
  • Focus and Cognition
  • Reduction in Inflammation
  • Cellular Generation and Cleansing
  • Boosted Hormonal Health
  • Improved Blood Pressure and Blood Sugar Levels

In order to benefit from intermittent fasting, however, the fasting period must be adhered to strictly and successfully. This requires managing hunger during the fast. Strategically, it’s imperative to stay hydrated via water and electrolytes, reduce stress, and find healthy distractions. Other hunger management tactics include coffee consumption, meditation, and being strategic with food choices during windows of consumption.

Though weight loss is likely the most common and obvious benefit, the concept of improved cellular and hormonal health is quite interesting.

How Intermittent Fasting Affects Cells and Hormones

Physiologically, intermittent fasting plays a major role at the cellular level that likely has an impact on hormonal health and beyond.

Not only does human growth hormone increase during a prolonged fasting period, but insulin levels go down, and cellular regeneration and repair are triggered.

The following are some of the biological and physiological changes that occur.

Human Growth Hormone

The levels of growth hormone skyrocket, increasing by as much as five-fold. This has benefits for both fat loss and muscle gain.

Insulin Sensitivity

The sensitivity of circulating insulin improves, and levels of insulin drop dramatically. Lower insulin levels make stored body fat more accessible to burn.

Cellular repair

When fasted, the cellular repair process is triggered. This includes autophagy, a process whereby old cells are removed and new cells are generated.

Final Thoughts

Intermittent fasting is a popular method of weight loss, and it can produce excellent results. However, it’s recommended for most individuals to use the more popular 16:8 intermittent fasting protocol.

Not only is this the easiest method to adopt as a beginner due to its simplicity and attainability, but it might just be the most effective strategy out there. Yet, more research will be necessary to draw more specific conclusions about this protocol.