Those of us who have experienced back pain will go to just about any means to avoid it. Being one of those people with a history of back pain, I’ve sought and experimented for many years to find what the best exercises are for back pain. Having problems with lower back pain? Try these out. As a personal trainer and group fitness expert I’ve found that these are the ones that bring the most relief to clients.
Causes Of Back Pain
Anyone who has lower back pain knows full well what the term excruciating feels like. The pain can range from a muscle aching to a shooting, burning or stabbing sensation in your body. At times, just standing or walking can aggravate the pain. In some instances the pain may radiate down your leg or be triggered by simply bending, twisting or lifting.
Personally, I’ve never experienced a greater debilitating pain than the nerve pain associated with this condition. The pain has literally brought me to my knees on many occasions. One time I was simply placing a pizza box on the passenger floor of the car. Next thing I know I’m on the ground nearly paralyzed with pain!
Back pain is a ubiquitous condition and a leading cause of disability worldwide. It is one of the most common reasons for people going to the doctor or missing work.
Often, lower back pain is often associated with an injury or some other affliction of the back. It may be a family condition handed down to the next generation or simply a weakened structural condition due to lack of movement or a compromised posture. Conditions commonly linked to back pain include:
- Age: The older we get the more common back pain becomes. This can start as early as your teens but more commonly occurs around age 30 or 40.
- Lack of exercise: Weakened muscles in your back and core may lead to back pain.
- Over weight: Excess body fat puts additional strain on your back.
- Disease: Some types of arthritis, lung disease (smokers) and cancer can contribute to back pain. Smoking also reduces blood flow to the spine.
- Incorrect lifting: Using your back, instead of hinging at your hips and using your legs, may lead to back pain.
- Depressed state of mind: Depression and anxiety appear to run a greater risk of back pain. This may be due to the tendency to isolate and not move as much.
The good news is that surgery is rarely needed to treat back pain. You can take measures to prevent and relieve back pain. The flip side of the coin is that it takes personal commitment and dedication to do something about it. Many people struggle with this.
You better your chances of avoiding back pain or preventing its recurrence by improving your physical condition and learning/practicing proper body mechanics.
The following 6 fundamentals are important to keeping your back healthy and strong:
- Move: Regularly engage in low-impact aerobic movements that can increase strength and endurance in your back and allow your muscles to function better. Walking, swimming and water aerobics are good choices.
- Exercise: Regularly engage in abdominal and back muscle exercises which build strength, support and flexibility in your back, pelvic and core regions. Many of the exercises described below meet these criteria.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight strains back muscles. Trimming down can help prevent back pain.
- Quit smoking: Smoking increases your risk of low back pain due to less blood flow to your spine.
- Practice good posture: Good posture mechanics will get your body back to the way it was meant to work and reduce stress on back muscles. Today’s lifestyle of sitting and not moving enough is detrimental to our posture. Pay attention to your sitting, standing and walking posture. Is your head, neck and back straight? Are your shoulders pulled back and in alignment with your hips and ankles? Do you feel balanced on each side of your body?
- Lift smart: Avoid heavy lifting. Let your legs do the work when you do need to lift a heavy object. Keep your back straight … no twisting or leaning … bending at the knees and hinging at the hips. Keep the load close to your body. Get help if the object is too heavy or awkward.
How Long Does Back Pain Last?
On average, acute short-term back pain lasts from a few days to a few weeks. Most often it tends to resolve on its own within a few days with self-care and gentle exercise/movement. In some cases a few months may be required for the symptoms to disappear.
Age may also play a part in the length of time the body recovers. The older one gets the longer it seems to take for the body to rebound. The worse thing you can do is to do nothing after the first day or two of rest. Practicing correct posture mechanics, movement, and stretching is the best ways to heal quickly.
Best Exercises For Back Pain
Back Extension: This is my favorite “go-to” exercise. Simple lie prone (on your belly) on your mat and come up on your forearms with your elbows directly below your shoulders. Push your elbows into the mat and extend your neck, looking just beyond your hands. Do not let your shoulders come up and be “earrings.
Simple close your eyes, relax your lower back and hips into the ground, and use your breath to release any tension you may feel. Do 1-3 sets, holding this position for 30-60 seconds each time. This is a position that you often see young children watch television in.
Windshield Wipers #1: Lie on your back, bend your knees and bring your heels up towards your rear. Keep your ankles, knees and hips in the same plane, all hip distance apart. Place your hands along your side, palms up, at 45°.
Slowly move both knees together back and forth like windshield wipers. Hold for a moment at each extremity before changing direction. Keep your shoulders and upper back on the mat. Do 15 reps
Windshield Wipers #2 Same as above but cross your ankle of one leg just below the other knee. Do the same back-and-forth movement but use the foot on top of the knee to pull down the other leg even further towards the ground. Touch your big toe on the other side before reversing. Perform in a fluid and controlled manner. Switch sides. Do 15 reps.
Figure 4: Lie on your back, bend your knees and bring your heels up towards your rear. Cross one ankle on top of the other bent knee. Now do a knee pull with the leg crossed on top, grabbing either behind the thigh or below the knee with both hands. Pull and hold for 30 – 60 seconds. Switch sides. Do 1-3 sets.
Bird Dogs: Come up into a table-top position on your hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. This is a spinal balance move so spread your hands and knees apart to maintain your balance. Tighten your core and bring one arm and the opposite leg up at the same time to back height.Hold for a moment before switching to the other side. This counts as 1 repetition. Do 10-12 reps making sure to hesitate for a moment in the up position before lowering. Do your best to bring your arm and leg up to back height. Don’t let the lower back muscles sag. Raise your limbs to heights where the low back position is controlled.
Bridges: Lying on your back, bend your knees and bring your heels up towards your rear. Keep your ankles, knees and hips in the same plane, all hip distance apart. Extend your arms down to 45° with palms up. Push through your heels as you lift your hips towards the ceiling while squeezing your buns together. Lift your hips off the floor until shoulders, hips, and knees are in a straight line. Hold for a few seconds before lowering. Come down, touch the floor with your rear, and repeat 10-12 times.
Knee Pulls: While lying on your back with legs extended, bend one knee up towards your shoulder by grabbing behind the thigh or just below the knee with both hands. The other leg can be kept straight or bent. Pull this knee up and hold for 30-60 seconds. Workout your ankles at the same time by circling your foot in both directions, moving it sideways, and pointing your toes up towards your shin and down towards the wall.Once time is up, keep your hands on your knee but straighten out your arms. Push the knee downwards against your hands for 15 seconds. Next, keep your knee up but move your hands on top of the knee. This time, pull the knee up against the hands while resisting. Maintain upwards pressure against your hands for 15-30 seconds. Lower the leg and do the other side.
Knee/Leg lie down: While lying on your back, bring up one knee in knee pull position (see above). Keep the other leg extended out straight on the floor. Place the opposite hand on your knee while extending the same side hand out in a “T” position. Turn your head towards the outstretched hand.Pull the knee across your body towards the floor while continuing to look in the other direction. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Cat/Cow: From table-top position on your hands and knees (hands below shoulders and knees below your hips) bring your chin down to your chest as you round out your upper back towards the ceiling. Hold in this upward position for a moment before lowering. When lowering, bring your head up and look at the wall in front of you as you droop your lower back like a cow. Repeat 10-15 times.
Pelvic tilts: Lie on your back with your core tight and your heels up towards your rear. Place your arms down by your side (palms up) at 45°. Lower the natural curve of your lower back into the floor. Press and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 8-12 times slowly rocking your hips and pelvis back and forth.
Back pain is not something you need to learn to live with. It can be addressed and put into remission by exercising, moving, watching your posture, and taking care of your body. However, it does take some discipline and a commitment on your part to follow through. Try these exercises for a month and see if you begin to get the results and relief you’re looking for. Reach out to me if you need additional help.
I’m an active Certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor who specializes in Senior Fitness and Functional Movement. Other interest include photography, travel, inspirational speaking and coaching others through any roadblocks that may be preventing full self-expression.
I firmly believe that nothing is more important in life than your health.
My mission is to continually grow, develop, and express myself fully in life while doing my part to help others discover theirs. Together we can help make the world a better place!