Low back pain can be highly debilitating. It can impact sleep and if very painful, may prevent you from working. In the United States alone, lower back pain is one of the leading causes of disability affecting workers and, it is an expensive condition to treat too. Over 80% of Americans will experience back pain symptoms at some point in their lives and although for some, pain may be dull but consistent, for others, sharp, shooting pains may be experienced. It is all too easy to move awkwardly and to twinge the back but if pain is consistently bad, or, if leg pain occurs too, it is best to seek medical advice. Although, there is often the desire to rest completely when back pain occurs, it usually helps to maintain some activity, and this is where lower back pain relief exercises help to relax the muscles. By gently working these muscles, circulation increases so blood flows to the injured area.
It is worth considering your lifestyle on a personal level. If you sit for extended periods of time, this can weaken the muscles. You are not alone if your lifestyle is sedentary in nature. Driving to work each morning, sitting for long periods of time at a desk and then, relaxing on the sofa in the evenings, will all serve to weaken back and core muscles. Poor posture along with an inactive lifestyle can have a serious and detrimental impact on health. Sadly, lower back problems are becoming all too frequent and without care, the health of the spine can be compromised.
Low back pain is usually related to poor posture or caused through sitting for extended periods but repetitive movements or lifting awkwardly can also cause pain. The mobility of the spine reduces, and muscular atrophy can occur too. This means spinal support diminishes – so it is important to consider the glutes, core muscles and hamstrings. Another potential cause is fascia, and this is the connective tissue around the bones, organs and muscles. Fascia plays an integral role with movement, but it aids postural alignment too. A poor lifestyle can cause the fascia to be rigid, and this leads to pain and to restricted movement.
Back pain can be serious and should not be disregarded especially if ongoing. It can be caused through inflammatory arthritis, endometriosis, fibromyalgia or spondylolisthesis so it is always wise to ascertain the true cause.
Mechanical lower back pain can occur through:
- 1. Pregnancy
- 2. Disc herniations
- 3. Poor lifestyle habits – posture
- 4. Reduced core strength
- 5. Muscular imbalances
Pain usually occurs through disruption or injury to muscles, joints, discs or the surrounding soft tissue but low back pain exercises can help.
The necessity for back pain exercises
There may be weakness in the lower back, but back pain can be reduced through exercising regularly. It is of course important to target the areas which are most at risk. Exercises provide future pain relief but, lifestyle changes can have a positive effect on health. When sitting, the muscles that support the lower back become weaker – consider the glutes and abdominals in particular as they do not engage during this time. As a result, other muscles must work harder just to support the body. The psoas (hip flexors) are attached to the lumbar spine and femur but if they become tight and tense, imbalances can easily trigger pain.
While exercises for lower back pain are important, it is important to not overdo it. Any exercise program should be targeted otherwise additional pain can be experienced or, it is possible to trigger off another bout of pain.
- 1. Sudden muscular pain is usually short-lived, but the back may be locked until the spasm passes.
- 2. If a pinched nerve is present, shooting pains may be experienced down one or both legs. This is likely to be sciatica or discogenic pain.
- 3. An aching pain which spreads across the lower back may be indicative of arthritis.
Prevention is the best option
Gentle exercises or movement when back pain is present can be useful so to keep mobility going however, it is best to work on supporting muscular strength once any pain has eased. Strong core muscles are vital for the health of the back as the muscles of the spine and spinal cord gain strength from the core muscles.
The abdominal muscles and back muscles wrap around the body and it is important to strengthen them as this will gradually improve the health of the lower back increasing resistance to stress. When working on the core muscles, remember that the glute muscles are important too. If the core muscles are weak, there is greater reliance on the bones and ligaments and as a result, injury is more likely. There may be specific movements that cause issues or, where movement appears to be restricted and so, it pays to focus attention on these areas gently by stretching out muscles.
Start exercises for back pain slowly and focus on the exercises that increase flexibility as well as strength. Where there is tightness in the hamstrings, glutes, hips and quads, flexibility will be greatly reduced, and additional strain placed on them. Before embarking upon lower back pain exercises, take time to warm up the muscles first. Stretches should be slow and gradual. There may be a tendency to overstretch but try to avoid this by warming up first and engaging with the stretching sensation. It should be gentle and without pain. Hold the stretch for 10-20-seconds but remember to use the breath to help release the stretch so to aid relaxation into the movement.
What are the best exercises for lower back pain?
Cat-cow yoga posture
When embarking upon exercises for lower back pain, the Cat-Cow yoga posture provides a gentle stretch on the spine. Perform as many times as is needed.
- 1. Start by moving into table-top position. Have hands and knees shoulder-width apart and legs hip-width also. Your back should be flat. Keep your head in neutral position but look down.
- 2. Enter cow pose first by inhaling and directing your stomach towards the mat. At the same time, lift your chin and chest up and now move your gaze so that you are looking up as far as possible.
- 3. Do not hunch the shoulders but draw them down from the ears.
- 4. Now, move into cat pose. On an exhalation, draw your stomach in. Visualize it being pulled up towards your spine and round your back, tucking your head and chin as if towards your chest. Do not force this movement.
- 5. Hold for a few seconds and then move back to the neutral position and repeat.
This exercise strengthens the lower back, the hamstrings and the abdominal muscles. Engage the core muscles as you lift up.
- 1. Lie on your back. Have your knees bent and the soles of the feet should be flat on the floor.
- 2. To lift, press shoulder blades towards the floor and press your weight through the heels. Then, raise the hips from the floor.
- 3. Lift the hips until there is a straight line from the shoulders to the hips. Squeeze the glute muscles as you hold the position.
- 4. Lower yourself down. This forms one repetition.
Table top leg press
This works as a great core connector and helps to increase strength and stability.
- 1. Lie on your back with legs raised as if in table-top position. Knees should be bent by 90-degrees. Have them placed over your hips.
- 2. Pull your abdominal muscles as if drawing them through the lower back and into the ground beneath you.
- 3. With abdominals engaged, come into a mild crunch and place your hands on the thigh muscles.
- 4. Bring your thighs towards your hands while trying to push them away by using your hands. Keep the core muscles engaged.
- 5. Be careful not to move or lurch the body in any way. The core muscles do all the work.
- 6. Hold this position for five seconds or longer if you feel able.
- 7. Go back to the table-top position and repeat.
Deep lunge hip flexor
This exercise should be held for 20 seconds on each side although if you wish, you can hold this for longer.
- 1. Begin on your knees. Lean forward, placing your hands directly in front of you on the floor.
- 2. Move your right foot so that it is by your right hand, then, lift up from the floor, placing hands on hips as this increase’s stability.
- 3. Bring your chest up. Your torso should be straight.
- 4. Ensure your right knee is bent at a 90-degree angle. Check that the knee is above the ankle.
- 5. Breath in and on the exhalation, slowly bend the right knee but keep the upper body upright.
- 6. Feel the stretch in the upper thigh. Hold this for approximately 60-seconds.
- 7. Inhale, and move back to the starting position.
- 8. Switch the leading leg and repeat.
For this exercise, you work the glutes, the lower back, the abdominals and shoulders. The chin should be down and try to keep the neck in neutral position. There may be a tendency to bring the shoulders up towards the ears or to tense those muscles, be aware of this.
- 1. Lie flat on the stomach and have your hands by your sides. Your palms should be facing downwards.
- 2. Engage with your feet and hips, ensuring they are anchored to the floor, lift up through the chest, keeping both chest and hands from the floor.
- 3. Pause at the upper extension and then, lower back to the floor. Repeat.
For maximum improvement, use lower back pain exercises regularly and build up your strength, flexibility and stamina slowly. Going to the gym is not necessary as exercises for back pain can be done easily at home. They are not complicated but require commitment to a regular practice. To avoid the risk of injury, warm up first but listen to your body, if there is pain, stop. Make a note of any tightness in the body, alter your posture and also, check your gait to see if there may be biomechanical issues which can lead to pressure through the legs, hips and back. In time, with care and attention, there will be a noticeable reduction in lower back pain.