Tips on Healthy Living with Dr. Norman Marcus. Many patients with back pain have tense, weak, or stiff muscles. These are 3 of the 21 low back exercises in his book, End Back pain Forever - a groundbreaking approach to eliminate your suffering. The exercises were developed at Columbia University school of medicine in the late 1950s by Hans Kraus M.D., President John F Kennedy’s doctor for his back, and Dr. Marcus’s mentor. 3700 patients were studied for 4 ½ years to determine which exercises could be done independently by patients with back pain and achieve a high degree of success. The exercises were given to 300,000 participants at YMCAs throughout the country. 12,000 of those participants were studied and it was found that 80% were able to reduce or eliminate their back pain. In addition 82% of those patients who had persistent pain after back surgery also experienced reduction or elimination of their pain.
The exercise program is so simple that when it was first taught to the instructors at the YMCA, they thought it was only a warm-up and asked Dr. Kraus when they would be learning the actual exercises. The program starts with relaxation followed by limbering (movement in the range of comfort) then stretching and finally strengthening.
Relaxation is facilitated by: 1. learning how to breathe from your diaphragm. This is effortless breathing. If you watched a baby or your pet dog or cat breathe you would see that with each breath the abdomen expands as the diaphragm pushes down on the contents of the abdomen. 2. Developing the capacity to “let go”, in other words to not produce any contraction in your muscles. This is much easier said than done. Many patients learn that they always have some degree of muscle tension and that this can be voluntarily reduced or eliminated.
Limbering is movement in the range of comfort. It should be done as part of the process of eliminating tension from the body. If we don’t first relax and limber we will not get a maximum stretch because we will be attempting to stretch a tense and stiff muscle.
Strengthening exercises should only be done after relaxing, limbering, and stretching. Strengthening a stiff muscle only makes it stiffer. If your focus is only on strengthening and your problem involves muscle stiffness, you will not be properly addressing your muscle related pain.