Low back pain affects the majority of people at some point in their lifetime — so if you're one of them, you're not alone. Although it might seem counterproductive to exercise when you're in pain, specific stretches and strengthening exercises for L5-S1 degeneration can help.
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The lumbar spine in your low back has five vertebrae, labeled L1 through L5. The sacrum also has five fused bones, labeled S1 through S5.
The L5 vertebrae sits on top of the S1 vertebrae. Compression of the nerve root between L5 and S1 vertebrae can cause pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in the leg on the affected side. Core strengthening can help relieve the symptoms of L5-S1 compression.
Read more: McKenzie Exercises for Back Pain
1. Supine Hip Hinges
Supine hip hinges engage the inner abdominals and hip flexors.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back with your legs elevated and knees bent to 90 degrees. Slowly lower one heel toward the ground, keeping your knee bent. Tap your right heel to the floor then return to the starting position.
Bring the right leg up until your right thigh is vertical to the floor. Hold your right leg stationery and repeat the above steps with your left leg. Keep your core tight while continuing to alternate between the right and left legs. Stop the exercise once your lower spine starts to arch.
Bridges strengthen your core by recruiting the inner abdominals and gluteals. Your hamstrings get a workout too.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Slowly lift your hips while contracting your glutes and abdominals. Hold the glute and abdominal contraction for three seconds at a full extension — forming a "bridge" under your hips. Keep your core muscles stabilized as you lower your hips back down.
3. Prone Elbow Planks
Elbow planks target the inner abdominals from a prone position.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie face down with the outside of your forearms on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows to position your arms at right angles. Keep your back aligned while straightening your legs. Prop your heels off the floor to support your lower body.
Hold your plank position for 10 to 15 seconds, gradually increasing hold time as you get stronger.
Read more: How to Stretch the L3 of the Lumbar Spine
4. Ball Squats
Ball squats strengthen the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings. A strong lower body decreases strain on the lower spine which is helpful in L5-S1 treatment.
HOW TO DO IT: Lean against a stability ball on a wall, with the other side of the ball positioned at the middle of your lower back. Stand with your feet positioned under your hips and allow your arms to hang vertically to the floor.
Bend your knees to lower your hips downward in a motion that resembles sitting in a chair. Hold for about three seconds once your thighs are just shy of being horizontal to the floor, then stand back up.