THE MOST OVERUSED MUSCLE IN THE GYM
By Dr. Samuel Cooper DC – North Endicott Chiropractic
When someone ages poorly, are they bent over backwards like the man on the left?
Of course not! More likely you have seen people age poorly bent forward like the man on the right.
The muscle which pulls our bodies the most towards this posture is probably the most worked muscle in the whole gym: rectus abdominis. How does this affect ourhealth and posture? While pulling the rib cage towards our pelvis, rectus abdominis flattens the curve in our lower back and increases the curve in our mid and upper back. If you do sit-ups or crunches by pulling the back of your head forward, you will also take some curve out of your neck. What affect does this have on your health? “…posture affects and moderates every physiologic function from breathing to normal hormonal production. Spinal pain, headache, mood, blood pressure, pulse, and lung capacity are among the functions most easily influenced by posture.” (American Journal of Pain Management January 1994). The normal curves in your spine distribute the weight from front to back. For example, the forward curve in the lumbar spine in your lower back, when perfect, puts half of your weight on the front of the spine where your discs and vertebral bodies are and half on the rear part of the spine on what are called facet joints. Too much curve puts too much of the weight on the facet joints. Too little curve in the lower back puts too much of the weight on your discs and vertebral bodies.
The discs in front are on the left, the facet joints are on the right.
When too little lumbar curve puts the weight on the discs and bodies, discs are slowly crushed causing them to thin, degenerate and sometimes bulge or herniate. When discs thin and degenerate, the body lays down more bone where there is more stress: bone spurs. These spurs, disc bulges and herniations can put pressure on nerves in and coming off of your spinal cord. Whatever organ, muscle or other body part is at the end of the affected nerve will gradually have its function diminished and weakened. Common symptoms include pain, numbness, tingling, cramping or weakness into the legs or feet, sometimes along with lower back pain.
Strengthening exercises contract or shorten muscles. If rectus abdominis is overly shortened, it tends to pull us towards the bent over posture of the man with the canes near the top of this article. Gravity tends to pull us in this direction all by itself. Why help it out? Granted, a sizeable minority have too much curve in their lower back and could stand to flatten their lower backs some. (The only way to tell is to have a side view x-ray taken of your lower back while standing in a neutral posture and have it read by someone trained in x-ray postural assessment. Most x-rays of the lower back are not taken standing in a neutral posture).
Given that most of us do not want to be bent forward as we age, most of us would be best off doing more strengthening of our back muscles which pull us into extension than working to have six pack abdominal muscles.
If you have any questions, feel free to call Dr. Cooper at (607) 754-7669 Dr. Cooper is a Distinguished Fellow of Chiropractic Biophysisics and specializes in posture correction along with pain relief and nutritional counseling.