As someone who has suffered numerous low back injuries (even one where I managed to fracture a vertebra in my spine), I can definitely empathize with people who are suffering with low back pain. According to the American Chiropractic Association, anywhere from 70 to 85% of the adult population will experience low back pain. In the States alone, the total cost of low back pain exceeds $100 billion per year, with seventy-five percent of the total cost attributed to fewer than five percent of the patients with low back pain. The risk factors for low back pain are pretty much everything too: people with sedentary jobs, people with demanding, physically active jobs, smoking, obesity, job dissatisfaction, depression and anxiety.
Odds are, you’re going to suffer from low back pain at some point in your life. Just do whatever you can to ensure that you get over it quickly and that it doesn’t become a chronic problem for you by taking these steps:
- See a health professional who is competent in evaluating your spinal biomechanics and can help you to correct the underlying cause of the problem. The longer a problem goes untreated, the more your body gets used to the problem as normal. Pain generally goes in time as the body gets used to the new, “faulty” normal, but unless the underlying problem is corrected, you could be setting yourself up for long-term dysfunction.
- Consider doing preventative exercises to not only strengthen your low back muscles and core, but do ones that will also maintain optimal (or even just normal) movement. You have to keep strong and mobile.
- As best you can, stay active and stay healthy. All the common sense things like getting up and moving as often as possible, maintaining a healthy weight, eating healthy foods and drinking lots of water will go a long way.
The remainder of this post will give you strategies to help strengthen your core and low back muscles. In the following post we’ll look at exercises you can perform to maintain optimal spinal movement. A strong core and strong low back muscles are great, but if you’re not moving properly, you’re still going to get into trouble.
Basic Strengthening Exercises to Prevent Low Back Pain
1. Bird Dog:
Hold for 7-8 seconds and shoot for 8-12 repetitions while alternating from side to side. When this gets too easy trying “drawing” squares with your raised arm and leg at the same time. If you have shoulder issues, try pointing your thumb up when you raise your arm.
2. The (Dreaded) Plank
Shoot for 1 minute initially and see if you can build up to 2 minutes. If that gets too easy for you, alternate lifting your feet off the floor for 5 seconds at a time.
3. Side Bridge
It will take some time, but it’s adviseable to build up to a 45 second sustained side bridge.
4. The Glute Bridge
8-12 reps for 5-10 seconds is ideal.
To summarize, I would recommend running through the exercises in this order:
- Bird Dog (8-12 reps for 7-8 seconds alternating side to side)
- Side Bridge (45 seconds on one side)
- Plank (2 minutes)
- Side Bridge (45 seconds on other side)
- Glute Bridge (8-12 reps for 5-10 seconds)
Guidelines for performing low back/core strengthening exercises:
- For best results, these core strengthening exercises should be performed daily. At a minimum, do them 3 times per week.
- No pain, no gain definitely does not apply here. If you have any pain doing these exercises, stop and talk to your health professional.
- Be patient and stick with these exercises. Restoring normal function and reducing pain can sometimes take up to a few months.
With the exception of the glute bridge, these are all exercises recommended by Dr Stuart McGill. Dr McGill is professor of spinal biomechanics at the University of Waterloo and is generally regarded as the world’s foremost expert on spinal health and low back pain.
As I said earlier, in the next blog post, I’ll go over basic exercises you can use to maintain optimal spinal movement – think Yoga (chanting… optional). Even though according to the media, yoga has recently become incredibly dangerous – I still think that when used correctly, yoga is a fantastic way to improve general movement and spinal health.
In subsequent posts, I plan to cover a wide range of conditions and different topics such as:
- basic yoga exercises
- a general foam rolling protocol
- more advanced core exercises
- why you shouldn’t be doing sit-ups and much safer, more effective options
- neck rehab and strengthening exercises
- preventative shoulder exercises for office workers
- exercises to treat shoulder pain
- rotator cuff exercises
- frozen shoulder exercises
- herniated disc exercises
- the different pain generators for low back pain (sacroiliac, facet, sprain/strain, etc.) and specific exercises for each
- what to do when you have acute low back pain
- basic strength training exercises and principles
- general pre-hab and rehab exercises
As always if you have any questions, or there are any topics you would like to see covered in this blog please let me know.
Low back pain doesn’t have to control or limit your life. Talk to a qualified health professional. Get a plan of attack. Get strong and get healthy. Take control.