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The Princeton Longevity Center Medical News

5 Simple Steps to a Healthier Back
by: Chris Volgraf, CSCS

Regardless of age or activity level, lower back pain is a condition that can effects us all.  Some people get “lucky” and only experience an acute case of back pain due to a small slip and fall or lifting something off the ground without using their legs.  The unlucky ones who suffer from chronic low back pain from tight hips and low back and weak abdominals, still have hope to eliminate the pain and prevent it from reoccurring in the future.  Here are 5 simple ways to make lower back pain a thing of the past! 

  1. Ever notice the snap, crackle and pops that take place in your joints and back the first minutes out of bed?  Some of the worst low back pain people experience is in the morning as soon as you take your first steps of the day.  A common mistake is to immediately start low back exercises as soon as you wake up. Think of any animal when they hibernate…their bodies try to conserve energy during their lengthy slumber.  We humans are no different!  The human body will commonly decrease or eliminate production of cerebrospinal fluid for the spine and synovial fluid for the joints while we sleep.  We too find different ways of conserving energy while we sleep, so don’t hop right into your routine fresh out of bed.  Allow for 10-15 minutes of walking around and some early morning activities of daily living before performing some core exercises or stretches.

  2. Learn how to activate your Transverse Abdominus!  The TVA contracts during lifts, acting as the body's natural weight-lifting belt, and stabilizes the spine and pelvis during lifting movements. Some research has even estimated that the contraction of the TVA and other muscles reduces the vertical pressure on the intervertebral discs by as much as 40% (Hodges P.W., Richardson C.A.).  To do this lay flat on your back, draw your belly button towards your spine to flatten your lower back (stomach should draw in not expand). Your pelvis will tilt posteriorly as you do this.  Hold for a few seconds and relax and repeat 10-20 times. This exercise is commonly referred to as the Vaccuum Exercise or Supine Pelvic Tilts

  3. Dead-lifts and Romanian Dead-lifts are your friends!  Yes, the stronger your glutes, hamstrings, quads, hips, abdominals and erector spinae muscles in your back, the less likely you are to suffer from low back pain.  Pick a weight that provides a little bit of a challenge to perform 10-12 reps (2-4 sets) and make both forms of the Dead-lift a regular part of your routine.  The standard dead-lift should be the staple of your routine as it is the purest test of strength because it is one of the few lifts of dead weight (weight lying on the ground).  When do people commonly hurt their back…lifting dead weight!  Train for it!!!

  4. No equipment, floor based low back exercises are some of the most effective cures for low back pain.  Supine Pelvic Tilts, Quadrupeds/Bird Dogs, Prone Cobras, Supermans, Cats and Dogs, Crunches and Reverse Crunches can all be done on your living room or bedroom floor…no equipment needed…no excuses!  Perform at least 2-3 of the aforementioned exercises on most days of the week for 2 sets of 10-15 reps (Crunches and Reverse Crunches can be perform to max reps) and you will find your low back responding very quickly.

  5. Floor based stretches are equally as effective as core exercises.  Hugging one knee to your chest, Lying Hamstring Stretch with a towel, Lying or Seated Piriformis Stretch, Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch, Open Book Stretch and the Gastroc/Soleus Stretch are just a few that can help relieve and eliminate low back pain.  Hold each stretch to the point of mild discomfort or stretch response (do not hold your breath) for 15-30 seconds, repeating 1-3 times.

*If you do experience low back pain, you should consult your primary care or orthopedic physician to ensure you are cleared for exercise.

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