04 Jun Low Back Exercises For Back Pain
Low back pain is the leading cause of activity limitation and work absence throughout much of the world and is associated with an enormous economic burden. This is a serious call to action to provide the general public with low back exercises for back pain! Low back pain doesn’t need to seem all that scary and debilitating, in this article you will learn low back exercises for back pain specifically designed to improve core stability, strength, mobility, which may help reduce your risk of injuring your lower back!
Low Back Exercises For Back Pain: Learn A Routine & Stick to it
The goal of this mobility routine is to introduce you to low back exercises to get you prepared to tackle the day. There may be some points during the exercise that you feel your back stiffness – that is normal! The goal is to work through that stiffness in a nice and controlled fashion, introducing our back to those motions. That way, when we stand up and do the same motions later, our back is warmed up and it’s not so alarming!
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Low Back Exercises For Back Pain: Learn What Works For You
There really is no gold standard exercise that works for everyone, whereas it is likely a comprehensive program that exposes your back to various stresses and demands. If your back can learn to tolerate these things, then life itself will be easier and your back shouldn’t have any issue with what life throws at it! Below you learn various exercises you should experiment with, but if you’re looking to take the guesswork out of what to start with and how to progress low back exercises, definitely consider our program!
Low Back Exercises For Core Stability: Stir The Pot
We can argue all day long about if maintaining core stiffness during lifting prevents injury but it certainly helps move more weight in the gym. My favorite for really teaching an athlete how to brace is Stir The Pot popularized by Dr. Stu McGill.
Many athletes will have to start on their knees versus toes as shown in the video but either way, have a neutral spine and extended hips and the athlete will maintain this positioning as they make small, controlled circles as if stirring a pot. This exercise is much harder than it looks and very often results in improved lifting form immediately as it provides great feedback to the athlete on proper bracing.
The bear crawl is a primitive movement exercise to challenge dynamic core stability while simultaneously loading the upper and lower extremity. When we say core stability, we are talking about the ability to support and stabilize the torso. With any movement, we want to limit the spine from excessive, uncontrolled movement. Whether its flexion, extension, or rotation under a load, too much unwanted spinal movement results in compensation! Compensatory mechanisms may lead to tissue overuse, which can lead to injury. Building a stable core is a fundamental prerequisite to lifting heavy weights safely and effectively.
Demonstrated here is how to appropriately progress into a 2-point contact bear crawl. Once you find a position that is an appropriate challenge for you, maintain that position for 3-5 seconds per side. The bear crawl is also great because it helps with body awareness. Having a good sense of body awareness–also known as proprioception–will help maintain proper form during lifts and various other exercises. If you are unsure that you are maintaining a neutral spine, you may place a weighted ball on the lumbar spine region as a cue to prevent excessive rotation at the trunk. Make sure to not compensate with lumbar lordosis to keep the ball still on the back!
Low back pain is now the number one cause of disability globally.
Low Back Exercises For Strength: The Deadlift
My favorite prehab exercise for the low back is a little counterintuitive. The deadlift, executed properly, is by far my favorite exercise to aid in preventing future bouts of low back pain. The deadlift is the king of posterior chain strengthening exercises. It strengthens the lats, lumbar extensors, glutes, hamstrings, and everything in between. When executed properly the movement teaches one to hip-hinge and have adequate control over their hips and low back. Progressively loaded deadlifts increase full-body strength and tissue load capacity. Improved tissue load capacity subsequently develops improved “functional reserve” and resilience to imposed stresses of daily life. The deadlift is incredibly versatile. It can be performed with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, bands, a baby, or nothing at all. It can be performed double leg, single-leg, stiff leg, elevated, deficit, sumo, and standard.
Furthermore, when looking deeper into pain and realizing possible psychological components that could drive pain, the deadlift yet again demonstrates utility. Regularly performing the deadlift motion trains the brain to be “not so scared” of lifting items from the floor, a common fear-avoidance behavior that could subsequently elicit a hyper painful response to a minor lifting injury in the future.
Additionally, if people are deadlifting, it likely means that they are routinely performing a general exercise. Staying active and exercising is far and above the most powerful low back protector we know of. Finally, the deadlift is incredibly functional. It carries over into ADLs for people of all ages and walks of life. Comfort, strength, and resilience with lifting objects from the floor is in our humble opinion the pinnacle of low back prehab.
How To Lift Around Back Pain
Building a strong and robust midline is not only important in the prevention of low back pain but also for any athlete seeking increased performance. To do so requires training the midline in multiple planes and variations under both high repetitions and heavy loads. One way to both challenge the midline in a varied plane with heavy loads is with the suitcase carry. Heavy carries have been a staple in classic strength and conditioning programs for years and for good reason. The suitcase carry is one of my personal favorites because it puts tremendous stress on the body to stabilize in the frontal plane, heavily prefacing the quadratus lumborum (QL) and obliques. The QL is a common nagging point on many individuals due to its overuse helping to control forward flexion. By loading it with the suitcase carry, we can influence a long, isometric contraction of the QL and help build tissue capacity and strength.
- Select a heavy kettlebell or dumbbell that challenges your grip for 50-100’.
- Pick up the weight from the floor as if there were one in each hand, helping to stabilize off the floor.
- Walk slowly and consciously, working to maintain an upright torso position throughout the movement.
When it comes to low back prehab, the barbell squat is a must! The squat itself is a fundamental human movement pattern that we perform every day. If you have to stand up from a chair, you have to squat! What better way to maximize function, build tissue resiliency, and reduce the risk of injury than to load this pattern? From increasing your ease with activities of daily living to maximizing athletic performance, the barbell squat can benefit nearly every population. A stronger back is a back that is less likely to be injured. Now go out there and build your resilient spine with barbell squats!
Eccentric Isometric RDL
One contributing reason for low back injuries is improper spinal alignment associated with faulty hip hinge mechanics. Simply put, most individuals lack the ability to hinge at the hips with a neutral or naturally arched spine. In fact, a majority of the population including many so-called advanced lifters and athletes rely primarily on spinal flexion to lift and bend over rather than hinging properly at the hips. As a result, they end up placing excessive tension on their low back and lumbar region. Over time, this has a direct impact on posture and ultimately structurally integrity of the entire spine.
Unfortunately, once the spine goes, both qualities of movement and quality of life degrade rapidly. Just ask anyone who’s ever had a back injury and they’ll tell you just how debilitating this can be. To alleviate this issue my go-to exercise is the Romanian Deadlift or RDL. The RDL when performed properly can be an excellent low back exercise to help with general pain as well as offloading sensitive structures in the low back region!
Low Back Exercises For Mobility: Quadratus Lumborum (QL) Stretch
Core Bracing and breathing are by far one of our favorite exercises for Prehab, rehab, and LIFE in general. Since many other people in this article have mentioned bracing and covered one of the most important motions of our life (deadlifting), we will instead share our favorite flexibility exercises for the lower back. When combined with the other exercises on this list, stretching a deep muscle called the quadratus lumborum (QL) will help to reduce your backaches and improve your ability to tilt the pelvis and brace your core.
Due to unfavorable habits of modern life society, the QL muscles can become chronically stiff for many people. The seated QL stretch is a simple way to open up the lower back and provide an immediate increase in pelvic and lumbar range of motion. An angry QL muscle will often be achy, throbbing, and nagging when standing or sitting for long periods. Stiff QL muscles, along with stiff hip flexors(psoas), could compress the discs and contribute to joint and disc pain in the lower back. After doing a stretch like this, it is important to follow it up with the glute, hamstring, and core strengthening exercises that are provided in this article.
Low Back Exercises For Postural Awareness: Cat Camel
One of the things we frequently see in low back patients is their inability to dissociate their femurs and pelvis. We see this most frequently in a squat or going from standing to sitting, but this manifests in so many daily tasks, like picking something up from the ground or putting groceries in the trunk of your car. The ideal movement pattern we hope to see at the trunk is the pelvis tilting forward and the spine moving with it. The lumbar spine/low back, should not bend or round at all. For this to happen, the femurs need to be able to move independently from the pelvis. This is not an easy thing to teach people or to learn. Countless therapists and personal trainers around the world bang their heads into the wall trying to correct people’s squat mechanics, only to give up and hope their clients aren’t working with them when their backs go out! We have found a pretty foolproof combination of motor control exercises to make proper squat mechanics stick.
Quadruped Neutral Spine Rocking
We love these 2 drills in combination because they build upon each other, can be modified as necessary, and because they work! The first drill teaches people how to move their pelvis on their femurs. This is the easier of the drills. Once successful with this, move on to the second drill which teaches movement of the femurs on the pelvis. This is a little tricker but is more similar to what happens with a squat. This is an excellent drill to master before moving towards standing squats, we are basically building the squat on the ground!
You Have A Herniated Disc, Now What?
One of my favorite quotes is “A natural athlete moves from his hips, never from his back or knees. The hips-first movement is safest for your back and knees – and the most powerful.” –Pavel Tsatsouline. This is a basic principle that echoes Dr. Janda’s work on gait as well as his Hip Extension movement stereotype. He suggested that prolonged sitting led to the loss of normal hip extension mobility and typical substitution patterns during gait. Since gait requires 10 deg hip hyperextension during high gear push-off, restrictions in hip mobility would automatically be compensated for by an anterior pelvic tilt and overactivity of the lumbar erector spine muscles.
A benefit of this skill is also it’s ability to enhance frontal plane agility for basketball, tennis, soccer, and other athletes. In order to gain access to high-quality frontal plane power & stability, hip extension is a key potentiator. This is in contrast to jumping athletes who require more knee dominant squat patterning.
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