The Best Exercise Routine for Lower Back Pain

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A woman is stretching her lower back. (Image: DanComaniciu/iStock/Getty Images)

Regular exercise is the best way to prevent lower back pain, but you shouldn't exercise while you have severe back pain, according to "Low Back Pain," a report by The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. After your pain has become less intense, an exercise routine of two muscle-strengthening and three stretching exercises is the best way to help prevent lower back pain from flaring up again or becoming chronic, according to the report.

Prevention

Preventing lower back pain via exercise is important because the infliction is very common. The textbook "An Invitation to Health" estimates that 70 percent of people will suffer back pain, and lower back pain is the most common problem because your lower back "bears the greatest pressure" when you bend and lift. Strengthening your muscles by general fitness exercises such as swimming and walking and specific exercises for your abdomen, back and buttocks will reduce your risk of back pain, according to the "Low Back Pain" report.

Causes

Muscle strain causes about 80 percent of backaches, wrote "An Invitation to Health" author Dianne Hales. Exercising improperly and too infrequently can cause lower back pain. Hales recommends bending your knees rather than your waist while lifting weights and other heavy objects. She also suggests stretching and walking at least once an hour rather than continuously sitting and urges people to avoid slouching. Flawed techniques while playing sports, including improperly swinging baseball bats and golf clubs, can also cause lower back pain.

Treatment

Exercise routines became a more important treatment for lower back pain in the mid-1990s, according to Harvard Health Publications' "Healing Your Aching Back" report. Bed rest was a "mainstay" of treatment, but doctors now recommend resting for only a few hours at a time for a day or two before resuming exercise. You should also put ice on your back right after you experience pain to reduce the swelling that's caused by inflammation and put heat on your back two days later to soothe and relax your muscles.

Strength Exercises

Choosing the right exercises after your pain has subsided is crucial. Merck's "Low Back Pain" report counsels strengthening your muscles and stretching in an effort to prevent the lower back pain from recurring. Its recommended daily muscle-strengthening exercises are 20 pelvic tilts and 30 abdominal curls. Both exercises require lying on your back with your knees bent. Pelvic tilts entail raising your buttocks half an inch and holding the position for 10 seconds. Abdominal curls entail putting your hands across your chest and slowly raising and lowering your shoulders 10 inches.

Stretching Exercises

The "Low Back Pain" report recommends three stretching exercises daily -- 20 knee-to-chest stretches, 20 sitting leg stretches and 20 hips and quadriceps stretches. The knee stretch entails bringing your knees to your chest, one at a time, while lying on your back. The leg stretch entails moving both hands slowly from each knee to the same leg's ankle while you're sitting and your legs are "as far apart as possible." The hip stretch entails pulling a leg bent at a 90-degree angle toward your buttocks while you're standing on your other leg.

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