If you are doing the classic “hands behind the head” abdominal crunch to tighten up your core, I strongly suggest you consider including other exercise alternatives if you want to maintain the health of your spine. Abdominal crunches safety concerns are being noted more and more in recent sports medicine literature.
Posture is of utmost importance in maintaining the health of your spinal column. That’s why doctors constantly tell you to “sit up straight, stand up straight and lift heavy objects with bent knees.” Let’s take a quick glance at the anatomy of your spinal column to understand the importance of posture and how it may relate to recent abdominal crunches safety concerns.
There are 33 bones, or vertebra in your spinal column. Between each vertebra are your discs, which are a sponge-like jelly material that provide cushioning for your spine and allow bending, flexing and twisting of your back. While poor posture does not necessarily affect your bones, per se, incorrect alignment can put excessive strain on the discs. For example, with excessive flexion of a certain region in the spine, the top vertebra and the bottom vertebra place excessive amounts of pressure on the disc in between. This is the main reason for abdominal crunches safety concerns.
To give you a mental image, think of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When you bite on the ends of “over toasted” bread, what happens? The jelly shoots out the back of the bread and probably onto your shirt. Well, the same thing can occur with the discs between two bones. Bend too much and your disc “squirts” into your spinal column causing pain in your spine with radiating pain into your arms or legs often accompanied with weakness. Exactly why you should not be doing abdominal crunches.
As you see in the picture above, this gentleman is pulling on his neck and flexing his lower spine tremendously. Imagine the alignment of his spine and you can clearly see the jelly-like discs wanting to squirt backwards into his spinal column. In addition, he is putting excessive strain on the musculature in his neck and back. I mean, look at him! He does not even look comfortable in this position. I hate to knock this classic exercise, but in concern for your health, I urge you not to perform crunches anymore because of the abdominal crunch safety concerns.
Instead, I am a huge proponent of the Pilates Crunch.
Note how the alignment of my spine is straight throughout the entire exercise. I am not pulling on my neck or excessively curving the lower part of my back. There is no additional strain being placed on the musculature in my neck or back and no additional forces are being placed on my discs. Further, not only are your working your abdominal muscles with the Pilates Crunch, you are also working your back muscles, which make up the entire “core.”
Initially, this exercise may be difficult for you to perform if you have weak abdominal and back muscles. To make this easier for you, straighten your legs a bit more so they are less bent. You may also place a pillow behind your back so your trunk does not have to go as far down. Other variations to consider are the Pilates Crunch Hold and the Ab Planks.
Make this adjustment to your core workout regimen to make stronger gains in developing your abdominal and back muscles and to avoid injury to your spine and abdominal crunch safety concerns.