6 Lower Back Pain Exercises to Ease Your Aching Muscles

More than 80 percent of adults complain of low back pain, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. This all-too-common affliction usually starts as a minor, dull ache or a sharp pain, and it affects both men and women equally.

Don't let discomfort derail your workout. Try these exercises for lower back pain. (Image: arto_canon/iStock/GettyImages)

Thankfully, the majority of cases rarely last more than a few days and usually respond well to at-home treatment. Lower back pain that doesn't go away in that time frame, however, is classified as either subacute, meaning it lasts between four and 12 weeks, or chronic (lasting 12 weeks or longer).

Possible Causes of 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: Adults between the ages of 30 and 50 are at a higher risk for low back pain than younger or older folks.
  • Too little exercise: Weak back and abdominal muscles may not properly support the spine.
  • Pregnancy: Pelvic changes and weight fluctuations put stress on the back.
  • Weight gain: Obesity taxes the spine and can lead to pain.
  • Genetic conditions: Ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis, can fuse spine joints, leading to some immobility.
  • 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 causes, like genetics, are impossible to change, others (like physical activity levels) are easy to correct and should help you avoid getting side-lined by injury.

Why It's So Important to Strengthen Your Lower Back

Even if you don't have any of the above risk factors, you may still experience lower back pain. If that's the case, it's likely a result of muscle weakness, and, according to Theresa Marko, physical therapist and owner of Marko Physical Therapy, that weakness can lead to:

  • 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 should 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 five seconds.
  4. Perform two 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 five seconds before returning your foot to the starting position.
  5. Perform two 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 five seconds.
  5. Perform two 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. Lift the small of your back off the floor and hold for five seconds.
  4. Relax and press the small of your back to the floor, keeping all of the movement in your hips.
  5. Perform two 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 five seconds.
  4. Perform two sets of 10 reps.

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 include 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 pulls the vertebrae forward and puts pressure on the nerves, blood vessels and muscles in the lumbar spine, causing 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: Squat

  1. Stand with your knees slightly bent, aligned over your toes.
  2. Hinge at the hips and bend at the knees to lower into a squat.
  3. Stop when your thighs are parallel to the floor (or your lower back starts to arch, whatever comes first).
  4. Straighten your knees and your hips and stand up.
  5. Perform two sets of 10 reps.

Move 2: 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 five seconds, and then return to the beginning position.
  5. Perform two sets of 10 reps on each side.

Move 3: 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 two sets of 10 reps.

Move 4: Clamshell

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

Move 5: 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.

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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