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From the Desk of Dr. Len

Back Pain and Leg Raises

Dr. Len Lopez - Wednesday, November 13, 2013



worst exercise for back pain;leg raises are the worst ab exerciseWe've known for years that straight legged sit-ups were bad for you because it caused back pain. But aren’t lying or hanging leg raises the same thing as the straight legged sit-ups – done in reverse? Aren’t you using the same muscles, whether you rasie your legs or bend your torso?


Leg raises, lying leg raises, V-ups, 6-inches are over-rated as ab exercises, read more and see why!


How Muscles Work  


An understanding of basic bio-mechanics will help you understand how muscles contract. Anatomy and physiology books will teach you that a muscle attaches at two ends. When those two endpoints or attachment points move closer together you get muscle contraction. It is the contraction of the muscle that pulls the endpoints closer and moves your body. When the two end points move further apart, the muscle stretches and relaxes.

Look at the bicep muscle, for an example. It attaches at the top of your shoulder and just below the crease of your elbow. When you bend your arm, or do a bicep curl, the two endpoints move closer together, and the muscle is in a state of contraction. When you straighten your arm the two points move further apart and the bicep muscle stretches or relaxes.


Every muscle in the body works on this same “pulley” principle, including your eye muscles. Look at your chest muscles. The pec’s attach along the side of your sternum and run diagonally into the top of your shoulder.


Examine the Leg Raise….why leg raises are bad,dr len lopez;tight hip flexors and leg raises,low back pain,

The muscles primarily responsible for raising the legs are the psoas muscles, NOT the abdominal muscle. The common name for the psoas muscle is the ‘hip flexor.’ The hip flexor attaches at the upper/inside portion of your thigh muscle and sits beneath your abs and intestines. It runs up and attaches to your spinal column, more specifically your lumbar vertebra and disc. These muscles are commonly overlooked by most doctors, chiropractors and therapists.


When you look at the abdominal muscles you see they attach at the bottom of your ribs and run down past your belly button and attach to the pubic bone. Remember a muscle contracts when the two endpoints come closer together.


DIY Test for Leg Raises



To help prove that lying or hanging leg raises don’t target your abdominal muscles, lie flat on your back as if you were performing a leg raise. Place your right hand at the top of your pubic bone and your left hand on the bottom of your rib cage. Now slowly raise your legs up to the ceiling, about 90 degrees. Did your hands move or come closer together? I don’t think so!


If you keep pulling your legs past that vertical position (90 degrees) and move them closer to your head, your pelvis will begin to rock up towards your head. You should then begin to feel your hands move closer together, this is because you are finally contracting your abdominal muscles. You are basically doing a reverse crunch. The point leg raises only target your abs from the 90-120 degree range....that first 90 degree is all hip flexors...and most people already have tight hip flexors from too many hours of sitting.


Now, keep your hands in the same position and do a regular crunch. You will notice your hands move closer together, which tells us your abdominal muscles are doing the work, not your hip flexor.


Crunches for Great Abs


Doing leg raises, or holding your feet six inches off the ground or having someone throw your legs back down after you raise them is only going to make your hip flexors tighter and put you at risk for back pain. For years I have seen patients come to my office complaining of back pain. One of the first questions I ask them is what kind of abdominal workout they do? If they say, lying or hanging leg raises or some other type of similar movement…..I have to change their ab workout so not to further injury their low back.


Do You Have Tight Hip Flexors? See the video



When you do a leg raise, the first 90 degrees of the leg raise is activating the hip flexors….when you go past 90 degrees, the abdominal muscles will finally begin to contract. Unfortunately most people only do their leg raises within that first 90 degrees of range of motion, which is only going to make them susceptible to low back pain.

It doesn’t matter if you bend your knees, or put your hands behind your's still your hip flexors, your psoas muscles that are doing most of the work, Not your abs. Go grab an Anatomy & Physiology book and take a look at where these muscles attach to better understand what we are talking about.


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