Should You Do Crunches for Back Pain Relief?
Back pain. If you’re a frequent desk jockey, like most of us these days, your back hurts more than you’d care to admit. Sitting is just brutal for the health of your back and your overall well-being, as I’ve already discussed.
My yoga and back-care students always ask me whether they should be doing crunches, because conventional “wisdom” says (and I know you’ve heard this one): To get rid of back pain you need to strengthen your core. And the only exercise most people know how to do to “strengthen their core” is crunches.
Here’s the problem: Crunches strengthen a part of the core that has almost nothing to do with relieving back pain!
Crunches work the rectus abdominus almost exclusively. This muscle runs vertical to the body, and its main action is spinal flexion. (See my rant about the improper use of spinal flexion in yoga classes.) Meaning, when contracted (such as during a typical “crunch”) the rectus causes the rib cage and upper torso to be drawn closer to the pelvis. It is also a superficial muscle, which means it does very little to support the spine.
When I tell my workshop students these facts, they look at me in shock and dismay. Their minds race with thoughts of regret for all of the brutal crunches they’ve done in their lifetime, and they recall with even more dismay that the darn things never did get rid of their back pain.
So if you’re not supposed to do crunches to help relieve back pain, what are you supposed to do?
The options are almost endless! I will introduce you to my favorite, and the most important one, in my next post.