Lower back pain is a common issue that affects many people and can have a significant impact on their quality of life. Fortunately, there are many simple exercises that can help alleviate pain and improve flexibility, mobility and strength in the lower back. However, there are also several exercises that, if done in the wrong way, can create or increase pain. In this article you will learn how to relieve lower back pain by understanding why some exercises can be troublesome and learning others that could help you instead.
What you will learn in this article:
Why do I get lower back pain?
Lower back pain is a universal human experience and almost everyone has it at some point. If your job involves repetitive lifting, pulling, or anything that twists the spine, it may contribute to back pain. However, sitting at a desk all day comes with risks of its own, especially if your chair is uncomfortable or you tend to slouch.
The kind of back pain that follows when you do certain movements too frequently or exercises wrong or too hard is often caused by muscle strain. But sometimes back pain can be related to the intervertebral discs. If a bulging or ruptured disc presses on the sciatic nerve, pain may run from the buttock down one leg. This is called sciatica. Of course there are also other reasons for lower back pain like a Spinal stenosis, Spondylitis and many others.
Avoid these exercise to prevent lower back pain
Please remember that some of these exercises are not wrong in general. They are just not the best solution if you already deal with back pain or if you are an absolute beginner without the right amount of body awareness and coordination. To understand how to relieve lower back pain, now the focus has to be on the position you keep while performing the exercises.
The first one is Leg Lifts. This exercise if very good to work your abs, the only problem is that it creates a very long lever. If you’re not able to maintain the right pelvis position and with that muscle tension, you put too much pressure on your spine. Most beginners are simply not able to maintain the right position because they lack in coordination or they are simply too weak to stabilize their spine. Leg lifts are not about lifting your legs in the first place. The main goal is to use the legs as a lever to increase the tension for your abs. So if you arch your back and let the hip flexors do all the work you’re not doing your body any kind of favour.
Dragon Flag & Handstand
You can add the same principle when it comes to Dragon Flags or Handstands. Arching your back passively without the right amount of muscle tension in these exercises is always a bad idea! Now please don’t think that an arched back is wrong in general. It’s a completely different story if you do active spinal mobility or strength work. Here you got full control over the spine and the right amount of muscle tension.
The next no no are Sit Ups. As in the example before you create a long lever for your lower spine and without the right amount of muscle tension you put too much pressure on it. Beginners tend to do this exercise with too much momentum and they overuse their hip flexors too much.
Toes Touching (with rounded Spine)
The last exercise you should avoid is touching your toes with a rounded spine. This exercise is actually pretty good, but if you already got back issues especially when we talk about spinal stenosis or disc problems we suggest to avoid it. While touching your toes can improve your spinal mobility, the fluid flow in your discs and the flexibility of your muscles, it also puts some pressure on your lower spine if you are not able to stabilize this movement properly.
How to relieve your lower back pain with low impact exercises
Let´s start understanding how to relieve lower back pain with the right exercises. The first one is the Cat Cow. This exercise is great because you actively work on your spinal flexion and extension without putting too much pressure on this area. This has to do with the very low shearing forces in this position because of the knee and arm support. At the same time you activate all the important muscles that are necessary to bend and extend your spine.
Hollow Body Crunch
The second exercise is the Hollow Body Crunch. Here you aim for a posterior pelvic tilt while raising your shoulderblades off the ground. When you compare it with the leg lifts you will notice that your thighs are in a vertical line above your pelvis. This creates are very small lever for your lower spine and with that much lower pressure. The same counts for the comparison with the Sit up. In the hollow body crunch you only raise your shoulderblades from the ground and not the entire upper body.
This makes the exercise not only more spine friendly it’s also much better to focus on your abs. The abs contract if you tilt your pelvis backwards and flex your thoracic spine, any further movement is done by your hip flexors and totally useless if you want to train your abs.
The third exercise is Bridging. This exercise is really good to activate your back and your glutes. The glutes can also play a role in back pain. If they are too weak and other muscles are too tight it can lead to the lower cross syndrome. When you do the bridge make sure to not overextend your lower spine. Try to hold it in a neutral position and focus on glute tension when you raise your body up and down.
Quadruped Arm and Leg Raise
The fourth exercise is the Quadruped arm and Leg Raise. Here you raise one arm and the opposite leg off the ground until they form a straight horizontal line with your torso. Please make sure to not overextend your spine or to shift and rotate your body. This contralateral exercise is great to work against imbalances and focuses on your spine extensors and stabilizers.
If you can’t maintain the correct body alignment because of balance problems, you can start by only extending one leg or one arm at a time. To maintain or build an evenly trained body it’s important to work with boths sides equally. So for each set you do with your right arm and left leg you do one set with your left arm and right leg. This is one of the best exercises to strenghten your lower back.
Knee to Chest Stretch
The last exercise is the Knee to Chest Stretch. How can this exercise help to relieve lower back pain? This is a more passive exercise but still great to release muscle tension in your lower back. You can do this exercise while laying on your back or in a kneeling position. It could be really helpful to add this exercise at the end of your lower back workouts.
Now you have learned how to relieve lower back pain. If you´re looking for varied and comprehensive routines, you can check out our website. Here you will find a program with a focus on mobility, and others that focus on calisthenics skills, muscle growth or home workouts. All programs contain several videos that explain step by step how to do all the exercises correctly.
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