The sit-up is an exercise familiar to many people, performed in gyms and homes across the world. Lie on your back, bend your knees and find some way to hold your feet to the floor and start… well… sitting up! It is an exercise taught to us during childhood and utilized throughout life. But, is it safe? By safe I mean is the risk-benefit analysis a net positive or negative? I would argue that the traditional sit-up as described above is not worth it. In fact many in the rehabilitation community have moved away from traditional sit-ups for other exercises.
Why? Well there is scientific evidence that points to large pressures and forces that are generated in the low back during a sit-up. Those forces combined with the bent position of the low back create a situation where one could injure some of the tissues of the lumbar spine specifically the intervertebral discs. Those are the spacers that sit between the “blocky” bones or vertebrae. The discs act like specialized ligaments holding the spine together and allowing for motion in multiple directions. The discs can be sprained just like other ligaments in the body such as your ankles and a sit-up is a good way to do it.
To avoid undue stress and strain on the lumbar spine while still working the abs consider trying planks, side bridges, dead bugs, cross crawls/quadrupeds or a variety of other effective and safer abs exercises. If you aren’t familiar with those names consult a rehab professional in your area. Work smarter not just harder!