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Why You Should Avoid Ab Crunches if You Have Back Pain

Learn how abdominal crunches can make back pain worse from physical therapist Eric Sampson in this Howcast video.


One of my favorite topics when I'm working during the day is when I hear patients talking about how they're having some back problems and they think that they need to be a lot stronger in their core or in their stomach because of the back pain they're suffering from.

And this is a really big misunderstanding in the clinic. The research is really not supporting that as much as you would think. It's really supporting the idea of reducing the pain with a range of motion style exercising and using modalities as needed and then moving onto strengthening sort of later on in the care.

And one of the classic mistakes patients make is using abdominal crunches in order to get their stomach muscles stronger. An abdominal crunch is where you're going to bend your knees up. At this point, you're going to basically just tighten up your core muscles, almost pretending there's something underneath the small of your back and you're trying to squash down on it and then sort of release. So, it's designed to sort of contract the abdominal wall, the stomach wall. You do it repetitively like any other exercise to gain some strength.

The problem is that when there's a back problem, like a pain situation, an acute phase or sub-acute phase, you're really just rounding your spine and you're rounding it or forcing it C or a slouch in the lower back. And that can really aggravate a disk problem or a spine instability.

So, there are certainly other strengthening exercises to do that are better in the acute phase or sub-acute phase, but really strengthening at all needs to be very careful with any strengthening approaches. One more time with the crunch. So all it is again is a squeezing or a crunching exercise of the abdominal wall and, again, it can be very risky during the acute phase of a condition. So, that's the stomach crunch.

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