Back (Un)Breaking Work – Part 1

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It’s rare to find someone in the hospitality industry that doesn’t, or hasn’t suffered from back pain. In this 2 part series, ballet dancer and Pilates instructor Kirsten McCarron and personal trainer Dan Fisher have a look at what are the causes of back pain and provide some simple exercises to help strengthen your back and get rid of back pain forever.

The long hours of standing, constant lifting, bending and carrying that hospitality workers do, really can take its toll on the body so it is important to look at making the body better equipped to deal with such stresses. With weak, and often tight backs being the main cause for complaint in hospitality workers, our focus is to show how we can strengthen the core muscles in order to support the spine as well as increasing the spine’s mobility, which combined will make carrying out daily tasks safer and easier.

The illusive core – what and where is it? There are different layers of our core muscles. The deeper, more intrinsic muscles that surround the spine in order to protect it during movement are the transverse abdominals (TA), multifidus and internal oblique (IO). Then the superficial muscles are the external oblique and rectus abdominals (the 6 pack muscles). Recent studies have shown that exercises that include the contraction of the TA, IO, and multifidus (and not just the superficial muscles) increase spinal stability. It is not simply enough to have a six-pack to prevent back injuries.

As well as the abdominal muscles being strong we also need to look at how the upper back muscles affect our posture. The latissimus dorsi is one of the main back muscles. They span from the lower back up to underneath your shoulder blades and when they are working well they draw the shoulders back and down making us stand tall rather than hunching.

Here are some simple exercises that focus on how to strengthen the core and upper back and in turn protect the spine during daily tasks carried out by hospitality staff.

  • Multifidus strengthening – never heard of it? Yes, not many people have but we all have one and it runs the full length of our spine connecting into each vertebra. Start by lying on your side, on one arm, knees bent and make sure feet, bottom, shoulders, and head are all in one line – imagine they are all touching an imaginary wall behind you. Breathing out through pursed lips, pull the belly button to spine and press the feet and underneath arm into the floor to try and lift the knees an inch off the floor (only the knees) then lower. Be careful not to roll hips backward.

 

  • Toe taps– lying on back, arms by your side, lift both legs up off the floor knees bent at right angle to make a tabletop and press lower back into the floor. Breathe in through the nose and as you breathe out through pursed lips, let the stomach muscles pull down to the spine and carefully lower one leg to tap the toe to the floor. Make sure the lower back doesn’t release off the floor and check the stomach muscles are still pulling down into the floor instead of coming up. Then lift the leg back to the starting position as you inhale again. Alternate legs and if you feel strong it can be done with both legs lowering at the same time but still maintaining the lower back on the floor and not arching off the floor.

 

  • Spinal tilts– lying on back with knees bent and feet on the floor in parallel. Breathe in and as you breathe out pull the stomach in and scoop the pelvis off the mat. Start rolling one vertebra at a time up off the floor, to elongate your spine, reaching knees away from the head. Inhale at the top and hold then as you breathe out, reverse back down on to the mat softening the chest first then one vertebra at a time back onto the mat. Can be done on one leg too. Repeat 10 times on two legs and then 5 more on each single leg. This stretches the spine as well as strengthening the abdominals, hamstrings (back of the leg) and glutes (bum muscles).

 

  • Lat pulls– on your front, arms by your side, palms facing the ceiling and keep the abdominal muscles engaged throughout. Take a deep breath in and roll the shoulders up to your ears, breathe out and reach the fingers to your heels sliding the shoulders down the back of the ribcage. At the same time push up against an imaginary ceiling and reach the head in the opposite direction of the feet. In doing so the head and chest will naturally float off. Hold it for a breath in and then as you breathe out relax back to the starting position. Repeat 10-15 times.

Doing these exercises regularly 3 times a week will help strengthen your core and take the strain off your back and really help alleviate back pain.

Next time we’ll look at improving flexibility and mobility to help reduce tightness in the back and reduce the chances of injury

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