Preventing Back Pain – Truths and Myths
November 25th, 2010
The Transverse Abdominis Muscle (*TRA*) cannot be isolated and strengthened apart from the other muscles in the Abdominal Wall. According to research done by Professor Stuart McGill (Director of the Spine Biomechanics Lab, University of Ontario) asserts in his two books that focusing on “isolating” the Tranverse Abdominis (*TRA*) is a myth and a waste of time.
Prof. McGill underlines that the recent literature has been polluted with the recommendation to “isolate” and “strengthen” the TRA. The need for “training the TRA” to enhance performance, for instance by “hollowing” the abdomen, has become a myth freely circulating among the clinical community. This is another case where specific limited research findings have been simplified in transmission by science journalists and misinterpreted by the media, the fitness literature and profession. Trainers are eager to add a new easy fix to their range of exercises promising stability that seems especially appealing because of its unusual character.
Prof. McGill has established in his Spine biomechanics lab that “bracing” – a moderate stiffening of all the abdominal wall muscles together (transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, and rectus abdominis) – also activates at the same time the back muscles, and thus forms a natural stiffening girdle essential to spine stability.
“Stabilization exercises” are those that groove the motor and motion patterns that ensure stability, (McGill 2001). Practicing and perfecting the “hip hinge” to prevent flexing the lumbar spine is for instance one such key exercise. Endurance is developed through repetition, and strength, through progression of loads.
Muscles of the Trunk
Please look at picture on the right above and notice that the diaphragm is an integral part of strengthening the core. Therefore, consciously breathing in and out while doing any core work is vital.
More explicitly, Prof. Stuart McGill explains that “No single muscle in the abdominal wall and the lower back is predominant for enhancing spine stability. All core muscles contribute in different ways at different times according to the loading task. Any of those muscles can become the most important stabilizer for a given task at some instance in time.”
Emphasizing the multifidus and transverse abdominis is a misinterpretation by the clinical community of the report of EMG onset delay in the Transverse abdominis by Dr. Hodges (1999) in the case of one single task (rapid arm raise). Other studies have shown that many other muscles exhibit EMG onset delay during the same task (Silfies & al, 2009), and that all torso muscles have perturbed onsets during sudden loading events (Cholewicki & al, 2002).
Prof. McGill asserts that recommended exercises don’t isolate TRA, nor multifidus, nor any other muscle, but that all abdominal muscles are involved. Claiming that TRA is a superior spine stabilizer has no supporting scientific evidence. In fact, among core muscles, quadratus lumborum, the glutei, and latissimus dorsi contribute far more to stability and performance. It is the total pattern of all abdominal and extensor muscles that determines spine stability. (Key references are in his two books: Low Back Disorders (2d ed. 2007), Section “Stability Myths, Facts and Clinical Implications”, p. 119-121; Ultimate Back Fitness & Performance (4th ed., 2009), Section “The Special Case of Transverse Abdominis”, p. 119-121)
Do you want Fault Lines or Laugh lines?
Do you want to develop fault lines or laugh lines when life throws you something unexpectedly? Did you know, your face and body before 40 is genetic? After 40, it’s your own fault.
I often think that “Life is like a toilet seat… up or down.” It was the day before April fool’s day, the ratio of males versus females staying in our house meant that the toilet seat was left up more than it was down. I don’t know how many times during that particular overnight 2 day visit, I had to put the seat down and as a result was starting to sound like a constipated bag pipe. “Pleeeeease put the toilet seat down. I don’t want to fall into the bowl in the middle of the night!” To this day, I don’t know which male was responsible for The ‘Toilet Bowl’ prank. In the early hours of the April fools morning, cling film was stretched over the top of every toilet bowl. The next morning the males found themselves learning how to mop a floor.
Another funny story that makes me smile, was visiting one of my Mum’s dear old friends called Peryl. She had a well weathered face from playing golf for years on the Scottish Links. The Scots would have described her as, “Oh, Peryl, God Bless her, she has a few good miles on her face!”
This was not how one of my Canadian children described her, not having seen many grandparents in Calgary… Appearing at the open window of Mum’s car, she smiled, leaned in and said “Hello, you must be the Canadian grandchildren I’ve heard so much about?” A voice politely replied from the backseat. “Hi” and then continued on “Granny, why does she have a cracked face?” Mum, Peryl and I all laughed so hard and when she could catch her breath she responded, “That’s because I have so many things that make me smile dear.”
Every day at work, I am reminded that our health is our greatest wealth. Laughter apart from being the best medicine, is great exercise for the 42 muscles in our faces. Let’s “Liberate our laugh lines every day regardless of the ups and down’s that are part of life!”