How Back Muscles Support a Healthy Spine
Author: Dr. Hamid Abbasi
DATE: 07 Jan 2019
Back muscles are the workhorses of the spine. They provide much of the support your spine needs to allow you to stand, bend, and lift. So it’s important to keep these muscles strong and healthy. But before we can understand how to do this, we first need to understand the spine’s anatomy and how it works.
Back Muscles and Tendons and Ligaments — Oh, My!
Muscles, tendons, and ligaments all work together to support the bones in your spine. Let’s look at how each works, starting with back muscles.
Back muscles are made up of stretchy fibrous tissue. They work with the bones in your spine to hold your body upright and allow you to move, twist, and bend.
There are three types of back muscles:
- Extensor muscles that attach to the back of the spine and enable us to stand and lift objects.
- Flexor muscles that attach to the front of the spine and make it possible for us to bend forward, lift, and arch the lower back. These include the abdominal muscles.
- Oblique muscles that attach to each side of the spine and allow the spine to rotate and maintain good posture.
Tendons are tough fibrous collagen tissue, which makes them strong but flexible. Their job is to attach the back muscles to your bones.
Ligaments are more elastic than tendons. The ligaments in your spine protect your vertebrae and keep them aligned correctly, thus limiting the possibility of having the joints in your spine stretched beyond their normal range. When this happens, it is called hyperextension. The extreme movements that occur in hyperextension can cause ligaments to pull or even tear.
You need your back muscles, tendons, and ligaments to work together so that you can move properly and without pain.
Why Do My Back Muscles Hurt?
Muscles, tendons, and ligaments are all susceptible to overstretching and tearing, which can cause injury and pain. If a muscle is overstretched, the result is a strain. Most strains occur in the lower muscles of the back. Common causes of back strain include:
- lifting a heavy object incorrectly, especially if you twist while lifting.
- injuring yourself while playing a sport.
- experiencing a fall or some other trauma.
If you have strained a back muscle, you are likely to have one or more of these symptoms:
- soreness, tenderness, and stiffness
- muscle spasms
- pain that occurs suddenly and increases while standing, walking, or twisting
- pain that shoots down your buttock, thigh, or leg
- muscle weakness.
Believe it or not, even chronic emotional stress can lead to back pain. Stress propels us into a state of overdrive commonly called the fight or flight response. One of the reactions to this response is muscle tension, which can cause painful muscle spasms in your back.
Tight hamstrings are another common culprit. If these large muscles in the back of your thighs become too tight, they pull on the pelvis. The resulting tug of war affects the spine’s ability to move properly, which causes pain. When the hamstrings and back muscles are flexible and work together, all is well. But if your hamstrings are tight, you are more likely to have back pain. Ironically, if you have back pain, you are more likely to develop tight hamstrings.
If you experience back pain for more than six weeks, you should seek medical care from a spine specialist.
What Can I Do to Keep My Back Muscles and Spine Healthy?
When it comes to keeping your back muscles in good shape, adhering to the general rules that govern healthy living is a good place to start. Get enough quality sleep. Exercise to keep muscles strong, and stretch to keep muscles flexible. Stick to a healthy eating plan because it will strengthen your bones, muscles, and ligaments and make you less susceptible to injury. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t smoke. It decreases the vital blood supply that your back muscles need to do their job.
Here are a few more tips that can make a big difference in keeping your back muscles in good shape.
Maintain Good Abdominal Muscle Tone
Your back muscles need to be in good shape if they are going to do a good job of supporting your spine, but your abdominal muscles play an important role in supporting your spine as well. When abdominal muscles are weak, they allow the hip flexor muscles to tighten, which pulls on your back muscles and causes the lower back to curve.
Keep Your Weight In Check
Obesity is the number one cause of lower back pain. Those extra pounds put undue stress on your back and make you vulnerable to injuries.
Watch Your Posture
Are you hunching forward when you sit or stand? Are you forcing your head forward or overextending the curve in your back? Becoming mindful of good posture ensures that you are distributing your weight evenly so that your spine and supporting back muscles aren’t forced to work harder than needed.
Be Careful About Lifting
When lifting a heavy object, stand close to it and crouch down. Grasp the object and then stand up slowly while using the large muscles in your legs, not your back, to do the work. Don’t bend forward or twist, and keep the object close to your body.
Wear Good Shoes
You may not be aware of it, but shoes help to support your lower back and keep your spine aligned. Make sure the heels are not worn down and that the back of your shoe is snug to prevent rolling your foot either to the outside or the inside. Look into shoe orthotics if you feel you need added support.
Stand Up and Move Around
Don’t sit for long periods of time but, if you must, practice good ergonomics. Sitting puts significantly more stress on your back because the discs in your spine are carrying three times more load when you are sitting than when you are standing. To make matters worse, you are probably slouching in your chair and leaning forward to see the screen, putting even more stress on your discs. Get up, stretch, and move around every 20 or 30 minutes. And make sure that the chair you’re using helps you practice good seating posture.
For expert guidance in how to keep your back muscles strong and healthy, talk to the spine specialists at Inspired Spine.