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The Weekend Warrior

Monday mornings in my office seem to take on a familiar pattern: the phone rings the moment I turn on the office lights, I answer the phone, and a booming voice fills the room. "Doc, I've gotta see ya. I played football this weekend with my friends and now I can't move. My back is killing me."

Now substitute football with basketball, tennis, golf, rollerblading (my personal favorite for pain), and I get similar phone calls.

The "Weekend Warrior Syndrome" seems to occur most often from the ages of 35 through 50. By age 35 we are just beginning to figure out that our bodies aren't 20 anymore, and by 50, we give up trying to get it to act like it is still 20. It’s during these years that I often see the first onset of back and neck injuries.

What's happing is patients are over stressing a body part that wasn’t toned to begin with, or just wasn’t stretched enough. Most of us take for granted that we can do many activities without any preparation. However, if you‘ve ever watched any professional athlete before a competition or match, you will see them warm up and stretch. Even a healthy, fit body needs good blood flow to perform at high capacity. For those of us who are not in tiptop shape, a few things should be considered.

There are some very basic toning exercises for the stomach and lower back that are simple, easy do not require a lot of time or expensive equipment/gym memberships. These exercises can save you from suffering the pain and possible permanent injury of the weekend warrior. The only thing you need to do is make a commitment to yourself, to spend 15-20 minutes a day 3 times a week. The only tools you’ll need are a patch of open floor and an inexpensive exercise mat if you need a little extra padding.

Exercise should be done on a regular basis. It's the repetition of slowly retoning and building muscle that is essential to a healthy musculoskeletal system. Here are just a few simple exercises you can do at home to start. Almost anyone can do these. However, if you have had a very recent injury to your back or surgery of any kind, you should consult your physician before attempting any exercise.

Exercise 1

  1. Lay on the floor on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor.
  2. Squeeze your stomach and rock your pelvis (hips) backward to flatten your back against the floor. Try and also tighten your buttocks at the same time.
  3. Hold that position for 20 seconds.
  4. Relax.

Repeat 10 times and always flatten your back against the floor.

Exercise 2

This exercise is for toning the lower stomach.

  1. Begin again with laying on your back knees bent.
  2. Squeeze the stomach, rock your pelvis backward flattening your back against the floor.
  3. Place both your hands underneath your buttocks palm towards your cheeks for support.
  4. Now squeeze your stomach tight and lift one leg only towards the ceiling about six inches off the ground and hold it for 30 seconds.
  5. Put the leg down and repeat the entire sequence from the beginning with the other leg.

Never do both legs at the same time. It puts too much stress on the lower back. Do 10 repetitions each leg. Once you can do that easily, up the time held of each leg.

Exercise 3

Now a simple one for your lower back. This will help build the muscles that run along your spine to strengthen the whole area against injury.

  1. Lay on your stomach.
  2. Place your hands underneath your pelvis for support (groin area).
  3. Squeeze your stomach tight.
  4. Straighten and lift one leg off the ground about 4-6 inches (heel towards the ceiling) and hold for 15-20 seconds.
  5. Put the leg down and repeat the procedure with the other leg.

Lift each leg 10 times. This will tone your back and buttocks muscles.

Exercise 4

This exercise will also strengthen your lower back.

  1. Lay on your stomach, squeeze your stomach tightly, and place one hand underneath your right hip for support.
  2. Raise your left arm out in front of you and hold it up in the air slightly raising your head as well, holding it about 6-8 inches off the floor.
  3. Hold this position for 15-20 seconds.
  4. Relax and change arms, supporting the other hip and repeat raising the right arm.

Do each arm 10 times.

These simple exercises, if done regularly, can help strengthen and protect you against injury. And if you already have a lower back injury from the past, these can help you strengthen your back and reduce pain in that area.