I wanted to write about back pain because it is probably to most common complaint that I hear from clients. Rarely do I meet a new client who doesn’t advise me about one of the following:
“I suffer from low back pain.”
“I have a stiff back.”
“I have a bad back caused by a historic injury (which now defines them.)”
“I have a weakness in my back.”
“I have one leg longer than the other which affects my back.”
News Flash! This last one is known as ‘leg length discrepancy’ and affects up to 70% of people. Very few have large discrepancies and those who do would suffer knee and hip pain.
Please don’t think I am not empathetic or underestimate the impact a painful back can have on someone’s life. I wouldn’t be writing this if I wasn’t eager to help!
Each case is different and I am not going to stray outside my lane, but what if we could safely try and improve someone’s pain and their perception of what they are capable of? Let’s dig a little deeper…
What can cause lower back pain?
There are three common causes of pain in your lower back:
Muscular pain that comes on suddenly in your lower back is often indicative of a muscle spasm. Sometimes doing something simple like bending forward or twisting. Your muscles will feel as though they have locked up, and the pain can be severe and debilitating. You will not feel the shooting pain that comes with sciatic or disc degeneration pain but you definitely know if you have experienced this!
Pain in your lower back that is associated with shooting pains down the back of one or both legs indicates sciatica or discogenic pain (disc degeneration) originating from a damaged vertebral disc. Disc degeneration occurs naturally with age. A pinched nerve causes this discomfort. It often feels sharp compared to the muscle-gripping sensation that you would feel with a spasm.
If you feel a chronic (long term) general achiness across the whole area of your lower back, you may have arthritis.
We all know that exercising can play a key role in preventing lower back pain. But if you are already suffering then it is important to understand the root of the problem before you begin.
To help prevent or improve back pain, you need to work on strength and flexibility through the entire body as our joints and muscles are all connected in one way or another. Your spine and spinal muscles get lots of support from your core so if that is weak, so is the support.
Your core muscles wrap around your midsection, supporting your spine and lower back. And your core, includes hips, glutes, and hamstrings which together form what we call in Pilates the power house. Weakness in any one of those muscles forces the others to take up the slack, they are not designed for that, fatigue quickly and complain by giving us pain.
For example, if you have weak hips and buttocks your back is forced to work harder to keep you upright and stable, and you become vulnerable to injury. That’s why it’s important to include lower back exercises in any exercise routine.
What are good exercises for lower back pain?
If you’re trying to fix that nagging back pain, or more importantly prevent it, the following strength exercises and lower back stretches will help. Just remember that consistency = results, so ‘a few goes’ won’t reap much reward!
I love stability balls for working the back as it gives support whilst challenging the core. They are not expensive and worth having if you suffer back pain (or want to prevent it), have not been advised to avoid them and want to improve your situation.
Always check with your doctor or a medical professional (PTs are neither of these things!) first if you have a condition that might be aggravated by certain exercises.
The following routine is a suggestion only. A good one, but often the best exercises are the ones which we tweek to suit us as individuals. I said tweek not cheat!
The Elbow Plank
Start on all fours. Lower onto your forearms with shoulders directly over elbows. Step feet back into a plank position. Draw your shoulders down and back—not hunched. Engage abdominal muscles tight to keep hips in line with shoulders so your body forms a long, straight line. Squeeze legs and glutes for support. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Gradually add time as your core gets stronger. Repeat for 3 reps.
Make it harder: Roll onto your right forearm and stack feet to perform a side plank. Repeat on other side.
Stability Ball back Extension
Start facedown on a stability ball with feet resting on floor and core engaged so body forms a straight line. Keeping your back naturally arched, place hands behind ears and lower your upper body as far as you comfortably can. Squeeze glutes and engage back to raise your torso until it’s in line with your lower body. Pause, then slowly lower your torso back to the starting position. Repeat for 10 to 12 reps.
Start with a Knee Tuck: In a high plank position, place shins on ball. Draw knees toward chest without raising your hips as you roll the ball to feet. Repeat for 10 reps.
Reverse Leg Raise
Lie facedown on a stability ball with your hips on the ball, hands on the floor with shoulders over wrists, and legs extended out straight, toes resting on floor. Keeping legs as straight as possible, engage your glutes and your lower back to lift legs until they are in line with your torso. Lower back down to the starting position. Repeat for 15 reps.
Lie faceup on the floor with knees bent, feet flat on the floor, arms resting at sides. Squeezing your glutes lift your hips until your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees. Pause for 3 seconds, and then lower back down to the starting position. Repeat for 15 reps.
Make it harder: Place your feet on the stability ball instead of the floor, keeping the ball close to your body.
Lie facedown on the mat with legs extended straight and arms down at your sides, palms down. Contract your glutes and lower back muscles as you lift head, chest, arms, and legs off the mat and rotate arms so thumbs point toward the ceiling. (pretend you are reading a book on the floor as you raise your head to prevent any neck stress) Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, and then relax back to the floor for 5 seconds. Repeat for 10 reps.
People often ask me how many times should they repeat an exercise session such as the one above. The answer will vary depending on your fitness level, what other exercise you might be doing each week and how you find the routine affects you. Some will need more recovery than others. Try to increase the number of rounds you can complete (3 maximum) before adding more days.
The best advice is to listen to your body and always have at least one day off between sessions. When we start small, great things can happen 🙂
I hope you find this blog useful and if you have questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch.