Core Exercises for Lower Back Pain

PFP. Exercises for lower back pain. Gym member doing a v-up

Trying to manage lower back pain while maintaining an active lifestyle can be a difficult task. The posture we hold throughout the day while working or doing other minuscule tasks plays a large role in how we generally feel in regard to back pain. Ultimately our posture comes down to having the strength and stability of the core muscles that surround our trunk or torso. Here are a few exercises you can do if you are looking to reduce low back pain symptoms or just increase core stability in general.

Understanding the Spine and Core Stability

Dr. Stu McGill is one of the most renowned researchers and practitioners in the area of back injuries and core stability in general. Core stability and stiffness are essential in order for us to create movement and produce force in our extremities. Back injuries specifically occur when our bodies cannot create the core stability demanded for a lift or exercise, causing certain parts of the spine to become overloaded and resulting in unwanted micro-movements that lead to injury itself.

The core muscles act as a wire system attached to the spine, surrounding it and anchoring to the hips or other parts of the body so that we can create the desired stiffness or tension to maintain the strength of the spine as a unit. This is where it becomes important to differentiate between creating stiffness and strength; someone can still develop back pain while having a strong back if they cannot create stiffness properly.

Exercises like traditional sit-ups, back extensions, Russian twists, and crunches have their place in strength training; however, performing isometric exercises where there is contraction and activation of the muscles but no movement through the body have a far greater benefit when it comes to creating core stability.

Here are some exercises that you can work into your routine if you’re looking to improve your back pain:

The McGill Big Three Exercises for Lower Back Pain

The McGill Curl Up

This curl up is performed lying on your back with one leg straight and the other bent.

Place your hands under your low back and work to keep a neutral position while picking your elbows slightly off the ground if you are able.

As you maintain this position, keep your chin tucked down and pick up your head and chest so that your shoulders come off the ground and hold for 10-15 seconds as you are able. Your goal should be to do this exercise with no movement in the lower back.

Relax and repeat as tolerated.

Side Plank

From lying on your side, put your leg straight and support your upper body on your elbow.

Raise your hips while keeping your core braced and hold for 10-15 seconds or more. The goal should be to maintain a relatively straight line through the middle of your body and keep your shoulders stacked.

If you are unable to perform this with both legs extended, bend your legs and raise your hips while supported from the knee.

Bird Dog

This exercise presents a unique challenge to the core to maintain position while there is movement happening in the surrounding joints

Starting from a hands and knees position, brace your core and establish a neutral position through your hips and back.

Keep that position tight, at the same time kick one leg straight back and reach the opposite hand straight forward while not allowing for any movement in the low back.

Hold this extended position for 10-15 seconds as well and then return back to hands and knees. Repeat on the other side and perform as many sets as tolerable.

Coach Caleb’s Top 3 Exercises for Lower Back Pain

Pallof Press

To perform the Pallof Press, you will need a light resistance band attached to something from hip to shoulder level. Take the band in your hands and step out so the band is pulling perpendicular to the body.

This exercise can be done in either the standing, kneeling, or lunge position.

Begin by bracing your core and extend your hands away from you body as the band pulls perpendicular and you resist the rotation.

Hold the extended position for 2-3 seconds before returning to the beginning.

The unique challenge of controlling the body from rotating through the extremities targets the oblique core muscles and others that limit side to side movement.

Dead Bug

The dead bud can easily be thought of as the bird dog exercise performed while lying on your back.

While lying on your back, brace your core and focus on pulling your low back flat to the ground. Reach your hands up and tuck your knees at 90 degrees, bringing your feet in the air.

Work to maintain that core tension and back position as you slowly lower one leg at a time towards the floor.

To increase the difficulty, add movement with either the same arm or opposite arm reaching away.

Glute Bridge

Glute Bridges specifically target the large gluteal muscles in the rear side of the hip. Weak hips and weak glutes can also be a contributing factor to back pain and should not be an area that is overlooked.

This exercise also begins from lying down on your back with your hands at the side.

Bring your feet back so that your knees are at 90 degrees, and while pressing your feet down through the floor, raise your hips off the ground as you keep your core tight.

This can be done for multiple repetitions or as longer, isometric holds.

Strengthening your Lower Back

As with all the exercises listed, it is important to focus on maintaining bracing of the muscles in your core and surrounding your back and spine. I hope that you find some of these exercises to be useful as you work towards becoming pain-free! As always, if you experience worsening symptoms of pain, please consult your physician before returning or continuing with exercise.

By Coach Caleb Keissi

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