Exercises to help with lower back pain
From the sedentary desk worker to the avid fitness enthusiast, and all those in between, it is a safe bet to say almost everyone has experienced lower back pain at some point in their life, stemming from a muscular source. For most people their back pain can often relieve itself with some R&R, however for others the pain can be quite on going. For these individuals who do experience on-going lower back pain, it is important the issue is addressed and doesn’t go ignored. One doesn’t have to look back too many years, to find the previous medical recommendation for back pain was rest and avoiding weight bearing activities, however in recent years as the relevant scientific fields have advanced, the current recommendations now involve exercises that help strengthen the muscles in the lower back and core, as quite often the pain is correlative to weakness throughout the muscles in the core and lumbar. Thankfully, there are exercises that one can implement into their regular training routine, which will help increase the overall strength of the core and lumbar region.
Exercise 1: Hyperextensions
A group of people who come to mind immediately when I think of who would benefit most from this exercise, is office / desk workers. Sitting at a desk for 7-8 hours a day, 5 days a week, can provide an individual with potentially 35+ hours of comprising spinal position, quite often being the source of their lower back pain. One of the most direct ways to target the lower back through exercise is with hyperextensions. A hyperextension is an exercise that predominately targets the Erector Spinae – a muscle grouping that are crucial for correct posture, and straightening / rotation of the spine. Having strong Erector Spinae’s will not only help decrease back pain by strengthening muscles that are potentially weak and problematic, but by also the very nature of the exercise itself, taking the lumbar/lower thoracic spine through its full range of motion, helping stretch shortened (tight) muscles, and contracting (flex) a muscle that spends a large amount of its time in an elongated (relaxed) position. The majority of gyms out there will have some form of hyperextension apparatus, however any form of bench, table, even the arm of a sturdy couch, can become a potential hyperextension machine. However of course, if you decide to get creative with your equipment, always be sure to have a spotter anchoring you to the chosen pseudo-hyperextension apparatus, if it does not have any form of anchoring support at the Achilles/Heel (gravity will win every time). As an individual progress’ with this exercise, they can increase repetitions and/or hold a weight to their chest to increase total resistance, leading to further strength and muscular development. If performing an unweighted hyperextension causes you any kind of grievance, I strongly urge you to stop training, and see a physiotherapist asap, as it is likely indicative of a problem greater than weak muscles.
Exercise 2: Plank
In a different but appropriately analogous way, back pain can sometimes be suggestive of a problem originating elsewhere, just like a common headache is typically not caused by head trauma. A sore aching muscle can sometimes be in such a state, from over-activation due to it taking on an extra workload, from weaker muscles. Just like sore/tight shoulders and chest can be indicative of a weak upper back, so can a sore/tight lower back be indicative of a weak core. Enters the plank. The plank is an ideal core exercise for those experiencing lower back pain, as many other core exercises commonly implemented into exercise regimens can aggravate and cause potential further injury to the back – crunches for example. When performing a plank, a common technical mistake many make is not bracing their core, the reason bracing your core is so important is because it’s essential to the activation of all the deeper abdominal muscles used in the exercise, as well as for stability and safety. The easiest way to describe bracing, is once in the assumed plank position, tense your stomach as if someone is about the punch it, and maintain the pressure the entire time whilst continuing to breathe normally. Beginning with as little as 10-15 second planks for 5 rounds, can provide an individual who has a weak core, with a starting point to increasing their core strength. As with all exercises, the more commonly performed, the greater the result (within reason, don’t do planks all day, every day), and as an individual’s core strengthens, there are various methods one can employee to increase the difficulty of the plank, leading to greater core strength. Such methods include, increasing time held, decreasing rest periods, increasing total sets/rounds, and if an individual is persistent enough with them, assuming high levels of core strength, and physically capable of holding multiple minute long planks, then weight can be added to the lumbar region of the spine for added resistance. It is important to note adding additional weight is not recommended for those currently experiencing back pain, this is for those who have taken the steps to rectify their back pain, and are now looking to further increase their already strong core.
Exercise 3: One handed Farmer Carry
A trap many fall into when rehabilitating themselves from any form of back pain, is training the appropriate muscles only in static positions – such as the first two exercises. Although excellent for strength development and alleviating lower back pain, the reason it is not ideal to only train from a static position, is simply because the human body does not strictly function statically (we move – walk, jump, sit, run). Incorporating an exercise that is done whilst moving, is crucial for optimizing spinal and the muscle groups surrounding its health. The one-handed farm carry is a great example of a movement that activates muscles deep in the lower back, as well as core muscles. The beauty with this exercise is that are directly applicable to our daily life – taking in the groceries, holding a briefcase or handbag, etc. and it can be done anywhere, anytime. As long as you have a few metres in front of you to walk, and any arbitrary object you can hold in one hand, you are able to perform these, although these are ideally done in the gym, holding a dumbbell or kettlebell, for the sake of an accurate strength reference point. Just like the plank, bracing your core the entire time, as if you are anticipating a strike to the stomach, is crucial to the correct execution and optimal muscle activation of this exercise. If you find reaching to one side causes you any form of acute pain, it may be a symptomatic of a twisted pelvis (pelvis out of alignment with your chest – commonly due to turning to one side of your body significantly more than the other), sciatica, and other potential serious problems, if this does occur, please seek qualified professional advice immediately.
Our daily lives are filled with an unfortunate number of instances that are less than preferable to our lower back health, I.e. There is a good chance that you’re sitting up right now, hunched over, reading this article, placing unnecessary strain on your lower back. Regardless of one’s upper and lower body muscular development & strength, anyone who neglects to strengthen their core and lower back are still just as much potential candidates for lower back pain as a sedentary desk worker is. This is because general weakness of the muscles in the lower back and core, are correlative, and can be entirely causative, of lower back pain. Therefore, it is important that consideration is taken when exercising, to include movements such as the 3 listed in the article. It’s also important to mention that it is much more ideal to prevent than cure, if you are currently taking no measures to ensure the development of your lower back/core muscles is appropriate for your daily life, than I would urge you to make those changes now and avoid the potential pain later. I’m a final note, it is important that you are correctly distinguishing between a muscular weakness / tightness and actual spinal damage, such as a bulging disk, before beginning any form of rehabilitation process’ for lower back pain, as damage to the actual spinal cord can be made far worse, by further weight bearing activities. If you take but only one thing from this article, it is that I cannot stress enough the level of importance of seeing a specialist, such as a physiotherapist, as soon as any irregular or persistent back pain presents itself. It is also important to mention, that these exercises presented in the article are intended for those who are healthy and able to perform such activities. Any person with a degenerative disk disease, hypertension, lumbar herniated disks, osteoarthritis, etc. I strongly urge against performing these to help reduce their back pain, unless otherwise instructed to do so by a professional such as an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist.