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Exercises for Low Back Pain

Strengthening and stretching exercises to help prevent low back pain

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Updated February 10, 2014

Back pain

Back pain

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Almost everyone experiences low back pain from time to time. According to the Mayo Clinic, low back pain is one of the most common reasons people give for missing work. It's also one of the most common reasons for a doctor's visit.

There are many causes of low back pain, but some of the most commonly cited include poor posture, excessive sitting, improper lifting techniques, accidents and sudden strains and sprains. The muscles and ligaments of the low back help support the spine and allow smooth, powerful movement during activity. If these muscles are weak, shortened or fatigued, any sudden forceful movement can result in an injury.

Low back pain can often be prevented by using good body mechanics, improving posture, getting up and moving frequently, and doing some basic back and core strengthening exercises. Physical Therapy and conservative home treatment is generally the most successful method for dealing with active episodes of back pain.

Back Pain Prevention Exercises

The best way to prevent back pain is to establish a healthy lifestyle that keeps the back and core muscles strong and flexible. Here are a few tips to protect yourself from low back pain.

  • Move More.
    Too much sitting can harm your health, so get up and move for a few minutes every hour. According to more and more research, sitting for long periods of causes the muscles of the lower body to simply shut down, which has harmful health effects, including decreased metabolism, increased risk of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. So get up and do at least a few squats or walk around for a couple of minutes every hour.
     
  • Stay Flexible.
    Basic back stretching exercises will help maintain good posture, body mechanics and flexibility. It's important to remember that the goal of stretching is to develop and maintain an appropriate range of motion around specific joints. With regard to the spine, athletes generally need to have good mobility and movement in the thoracic spine (upper back), while the lumbar spine provides a solid base of support and stable.

    Even though any sort of stretching may feel great after exercise or after sitting a long time, the real benefits of a specific stretching routine is that it can help maintain appropriate range of motion around specific joints. It's even more helpful if stretching and releasing tight muscles goes hand in hand with strengthening and stabilizing the weak ones, as explained in the next tip, glute activation.

  • Get Your Glutes Firing.
    If you sit for long stretches, you may end up with weak glutes, tight hamstrings and tight hip flexors. This sort of muscle imbalance is another reason some people develop low back pain. In addition to getting up more frequently to activate the muscle of the lower body, performing a specific glute activation routine will help get your backside firing properly and alleviate some of the imbalance caused by long-term sitting. It's also a great routine for athletes to incorporate into a warm up so that the strongest muscles in the body can fire properly during exercise.
     
  • Strengthen Your Back and Core.
    Doing a simple back and core strengthening routine will help you maintain solid body mechanics by strengthening the core muscles that provide support and stability to the spine. Some of the most helpful and often overlooked back strengtheners include: the bridge exercise, the back extension exercise, and the arm and leg extension exercise.
     
  • Activate the Transverse Abdominis (TVA).
    The transverse abdominis (TVA) muscle is the deepest of the abdominal muscles and one of the main core stabilizing muscles of the lumbar spine. A weak TVA is often related to low back pain, but one simple exercise can help strengthen this muscle.
     
  • Build More Overall Strength.
    There is some evidence that building overall strength with a basic weight training exercise program can help reduce back pain. One study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, reported that strength training was significantly more helpful in reducing low back pain and improving patient functioning than engaging in an aerobic exercise conditioning program.

    The study program used the following resistance exercises: Weight Lifting Exercise to Ease Back Pain.


Sources

Bakl, Elin, et. al. "Are we facing a new paradigm of inactivity physiology?" Br J Sports Med, 4 February 2010, doi:10.1136/bjsm.2009.067702

Ian Shrier MD, PhD and Kav Gossal MD. The Myths and Truths of Stretching: Individualized Recommendations for Healthy Muscles, The Physician and Sportsmedicine, VOL 28, #8, August 2000

Kell, R; Asmundson, G. A Comparison of Two Forms of Periodized Exercise Rehabilitation Programs in the Management of Chronic Nonspecific Low-Back Pain. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 23(2):513-523, March 2009.

Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma, Low Back Pain and Lumbar Stabilization Exercises, [http://www.nismat.org/ptcor/lbp]. Accessed Feb, 2014.

Patient's Guide to Anatomy and Function of the Spine, the University of Maryland Medical Center. [umm.edu/programs/spine/health/guides/anatomy-and-function] Accessed Feb, 2014.

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