6 Lower Back Pain Exercises to Ease Your Aching Muscles

Don't let discomfort derail your workout. Try these exercises for lower-back pain.
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Between 60 and 70 percent of adults in industrialized countries will deal with low-back pain, according to the World Health Organization.

Thankfully, the majority of cases are acute and last just a few days to a few weeks and usually respond well to at-home treatment, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Lower-back pain that doesn't go away after 12 weeks, however, is classified as chronic.

Chronic low-back pain usually starts as a minor, dull ache; acute pain or injury can feel sharp and come on quickly.

Risk Factors for Low-Back Pain

In order to avoid being incapacitated by low-back pain, it's important to understand where and how it originates. Katy Rush, physical therapist and owner of The Perfect Pelvis, says the most common risk factors include:

  • Getting older
  • Weak back and abdominal muscles
  • Pregnancy. Pelvic changes and weight fluctuations put stress on the back.
  • Weight gain. Obesity taxes the spine and can lead to pain.
  • Underlying medical conditions. Forms of arthritis, for example, can fuse spine joints, leading to some immobility and pain.
  • Occupational risk factors. Jobs that require heavy lifting, pushing, pulling or twisting of the spine, as well as sedentary desk jobs, can lead to back pain.
  • Mental health factors. Anxiety, depression and stress can affect the body in numerous ways, including causing muscle tension.

While some of these factors, like age and genetics, are outside of your control, others, like muscle strength, are within your power to change. Addressing these risk factors can help you avoid getting side-lined by injury.

Read more: 10 Popular Exercises That Can Hurt Your Back

One of the changes you can make is addressing muscle weakness in your core and back. Even if you don't have other risk factors for low-back pain, muscle weakness can still lead to complications, says Theresa Marko, physical therapist and owner of Marko Physical Therapy, including:

  • Strained muscles
  • Compression of the spine and discs
  • Stiffness of the vertebrae
  • Reduced mobility of the facet joints (spinal joints that help you bend and twist)
  • Shortening of the muscles in the front of the hips and back of the knees

The Best Lower-Back Exercises

Since lower-back pain is so common, there are a number of known treatment options to try. For starters, here's a list of exercises that may relieve some discomfort — and could even help prevent injuries, too.

Move 1: Forearm Plank

  1. Lie on your stomach with your forearms tucked under your chest.
  2. Keep your body in a straight line from head to feet as you push up, balancing on your toes and forearms.
  3. Keep your core engaged and don't allow your lower back to sag.
  4. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat twice more.

Move 2: Trunk Extension Stretch

  1. Lie on your stomach with your hands beside your shoulders.
  2. Press your chest off the floor, arch your upper back as much as you can comfortably and look up to the ceiling.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds.
  4. Perform 2 sets of 10 repetitions.

Move 3: Supine Marching

  1. Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
  2. Allow your elbows to rest by your sides and place your hands on the front of your pelvis.
  3. Contract your deep core muscles and lift one foot off the ground so that your leg forms a 90-degree angle and your shin is parallel to the floor.
  4. Hold for 5 seconds before returning your foot to the starting position.
  5. Perform 2 sets of 10 repetitions on each leg.

Move 4: Side-Lying Hip Abduction

  1. Lie on your left side, with your right leg straight and your left leg bent so your foot is behind you.
  2. Bend your left arm to support your head.
  3. Raise your right leg, keeping it straight, and don't let your back arch.
  4. Hold for 5 seconds.
  5. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps on each side.

Move 5: Pelvic Tilt

  1. Lie on your back with your arms folded across your chest.
  2. Bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor and the small of your back is in a natural curve.
  3. Rock your hips toward your head to press the small of your back to the floor and hold for 5 seconds.
  4. Relax and return the small of your back to a neutral position.
  5. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps.

Move 6: Prone Cobra

  1. Lie on your stomach with your arms to your side, hands facing down.
  2. Lift your head and chest several inches off the floor, keeping your chin slightly tucked and your elbows bent.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds.
  4. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps.

Read more: Ease Upper Back Pain With These Exercises

The Importance of Lower-Back Exercises for Men

As men age, they're prone to accumulating weight around their mid-section. In addition to putting them at risk for low-back pain, this abdominal fat is also a risk factor for heart disease, so it's important to prioritize physical fitness and consider including the above exercises in a workout routine.

Lower-Back Exercises for Pregnancy

The added weight gain and stress on women's bodies during pregnancy can wreak havoc on the lower back. As the baby grows, the added weight puts pressure on the nerves, blood vessels and muscles in the lumbar spine, which can lead to low-back pain, says Liza Janda, childbirth educator and registered prenatal yoga teacher at Yoga Janda.

Additionally, the hormone relaxin temporarily surges, enabling the pelvis and ligaments to expand to accommodate childbirth, Janda says. But it also makes other joints (including vertebrae) less stable and more prone to injury. To counteract back pain during pregnancy, try one (or all) of these exercises in addition to the pelvic tilt mentioned above.

Move 1: Bird Dog

  1. Begin on your hands and knees on the floor.
  2. Lift your left arm straight out in front of you.
  3. At the same time, lift your right leg straight back behind you.
  4. Hold for 5 seconds, and then return to the beginning position.
  5. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps on each side.

Move 2: Cat-Cow

  1. Start on your hands and knees on the floor.
  2. Inhale as you arch your back up to the ceiling as high as you comfortably can.
  3. Exhale as you round your back the opposite way, belly bowing toward the floor.
  4. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps.

Move 3: Clamshell

  1. Lie on your left side with your knees at 90 degrees and positioned slightly in front of you.
  2. Contract glute muscles and lift your right knee a few inches.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds before lowering back down.
  4. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Move 4: Modified Plank

  1. Start in a standard push-up position (high plank) but drop to your knees.
  2. Hold your body in this position, arms underneath shoulders.
  3. Keep your spine straight and avoid flexing or hyperextending your lower back.
  4. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat twice more.

Read more: The Best Yoga Moves for Your Back

Warning

If your low-back pain persists even after at-home treatment and trying these exercises, it may be a good idea to visit a doctor, orthopedist or physical therapist.

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