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Can Sit-ups really hurt you?

Can Sit-Ups Really Hurt You?


Many Exercises Can be Harmful to the Body

Many people want to do exercises for the betterment of their health. And they should be commended for that. Unfortunately many of the exercises long thought to be effective, we now know can be very harmful to the body, and specifically the spine. Professor Stuart McGill who has been studying spine biomechanics for 30 years is the world renowned leader in knowing what is good and more importantly what is bad for the spine. The most problematic thing that has been found with typical exercises programs is repeated lumbar flexion. This means bending forward at the lower spine. This act of bending the spine forward places a large amount of compressive force on the spine and can lead to injury. Each one of the bones of your spine is separated from the others by a disc. This disc is soft and Jelly like in the middle. Constant compression of a disc can cause the inner jelly like material to squirt out. This is what is known as a bulging/ herniated disc.  “There are only so many bends in your spine until the discs eventually herniate.” -Stuart Mcgill

Now Think Of Your Exercises

Now think to your exercise routine and or the exercises you have been taught all your life. Do any of them require you to bend at the waist? Sit-ups, Crunches, AB Machines, Sun Salutations, Standing toe touches, Bicycles, Hanging Knee Raises, Leg Raises. The list could go on and on. The 1 thing they all have in common is spinal flexion. This repeated flexion will eventually lead to spinal failure. You will notice I didn’t put Squats on here or Dead lifts or other such type exercises. Because in reality these are excellent exercises for the core and the body. Provided they are performed correctly. As long as someone learns to hip hinge and not flex at the spine these will become safe and very effective.

Should You do this Exercise?

Avoiding spine flexion is not necessary  for everyone, it really depends on how they spend the rest of their days. If you are like the majority of people out there sitting at a computer all day, you are constantly sitting in a flexed position. So for someone like this the last thing we want them to do is go exercise by sitting or flexing the spine even more. This would include spin classes and all of the exercises we have mentioned already. Now if you are an individual who stands all day or spends most of the day on your feet then flexion type exercises may not be so bad, and in fact may be encouraged. The only way to truly know is to have your posture analyzed by an expert who can tell you what exercises you should and more importantly SHOULD NOT be doing.

So if spinal flexion can cause us harm, what are we to do?

Try these two tips:

  1. Learn to brace and support your spine by contracting your core. Your core is comprised of numerous muscles which when contracted together will support and take pressure off your spine. In order to brace your core try this: place two fingers above your belt line in line with the middle of your leg. Push in slightly and try to contract the muscles underneath your finger. To help you feel the right muscles I have my patients pretend that someone is going to punch them in the stomach (don’t really have anyone punch you!). The natural reaction of the body would be to brace the stomach. When you brace properly you should actually be able to feel the contraction all the way around to your back. To make it easier try this lying down face up with your knees bent first. It takes some practice but once you become good at it you will be able to protect your spine while you lift or do exercises.
  2. As with any exercises it is important that you have a professional who knows what they are doing and can evaluate you and make sure you are able to perform them without risking injury. Find someone who knows about biomechanics of the spine and what is effective and also harmful when exercising. Just because someone says they are a personal trainer does not mean they know exactly what is best for the human body.  Many people will say that their personal trainer has them do some of the exercises mentioned above and that they must know what they are doing. Unfortunately many of these trainers have not read the research and seen how problematic these exercises can be. They have good intentions with the exercise programs they use unfortunately many times they are putting the spine at risk for injury without knowing it. There are numerous other exercises which when performed will spare the spine and effectively strengthen the core (planks, bridges, bird dogs, dead bugs, etc). If you have an injury find a chiropractor who specializes in rehabilitation of the spine and can provide the treatment to overcome your injury effectively. If you are not currently injured look for a personal trainer who has the advanced certification in exercise therapy and knows how to safely train the human body.

Can We help? Call for an Evaluation!

If you have suffered an injury or have experienced back pain for a long time, I encourage you to schedule a consultation at my office to learn how we can safely and effectively help you. By getting a chiropractic evaluation we can let you know what the cause for your pain is and if we can help you overcome it! If it turns out that spinal fixations or misalignments are contributing to your pain, only a doctor of chiropractic is trained to detect this and correct it. Along with chiropractic treatment we will also educate you on proper exercises strategies and how to best prevent future injuries.

-Dr. David Oliver
Move Well Chiropractic