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If the muscles of the lower back are tight from tension, or weak, then it is necessary to build up other muscles to help bear the load—the lower abdominals, the hip flexors, the hamstrings and the buttocks are especially in need of strengthening.
There are many combinations of stretching and strengthening exercises, about as many as there are knowledgeable physicians in the back-pain field. Three currently available paperbound books on the subject provide sensible, systematic exercise tips and explain in great detail the pathology of lower back syndrome.
Oh, My Aching Back (Signet, $1.95) by Root (with Thomas Kiernan) is a concise and intelligent treatment of the subject, and his eight general exercises are the most compact and useful for those who believe that they may be prone to a bad back.
Backache, Stress and Tension ( Pocket Books, $1.50) by Kraus, ranges wider in its interest, exploring the effects of stress and tension in modern life. Kraus also includes six self-administered fitness tests that he developed with another physician many years ago. They are designed, among other things, to tell you if you are a potential back case. In addition, the book contains an exhaustive catalog of exercises—but not an exhausting one, for overexertion is not in the ball game for back cases.
A slightly different point of view is presented by Finneson in The New Approach To Low Back Pain (Berkley Publishing Co., $2.95). Being a neurosurgeon rather than an orthopedic man, Finneson's presentation of details on the mechanics of pain is enlightening, at least to us sufferers.
As each of these books warns the reader, the man who treats himself has a fool for a patient. Before doing exercises, read the books thoroughly and get your personal physician's O.K., for the exercises aren't for everyone.
If you merely suspect that you may be a candidate for crawling around on your hands and knees, Root's book should suffice. If you are a bona fide sufferer and, like me, love to know every one of the hideous and intimate details of your ailment, then all three are recommended reading.
After recovering from my initial bout of back pain, and doing my exercises religiously for six weeks, I am once again able to play squash and tennis. Further, by doing the tension-releasing exercises, I find myself a much calmer—though still harried—hysteric.
The experts suggest avoiding some sports, advise which to engage in immediately and which to undertake with caution. They all recommend returning to sports activities slowly, what got you into trouble in the first place was too much activity without first getting rid of your tension. Perform a medically sound round of warm-up stretches before any physical activity, and ease into things.
Swimming is great for back sufferers because the water bears most of the weight of the body. Stay away from the butterfly, however, for it forces you to arch backward.