Let's look at the common causes of lower back pain. There are two main reasons, which are a lack of strength in muscles that support the spine and a lack of flexibility. First let us discuss lack of strength. Muscles are the spine's main defense against gravity. Strengthening the core muscles that support the spine with exercises, can prevent, reduce and even eliminate back pain. The core muscles are primarily the abdominals (both deep and external), the back, and the buttocks, which covers the trunk of the human body.
There are other muscles that must be strong as well to support us when we do every day functional activities such as lifting a grocery bag or getting in and out of a car. It is imperative that our leg muscles are strong to support our movement during daily activities. The front of the leg (called the quadriceps muscles) support us when lifting, sitting and standing. If these muscles are weak, you may end up using your back. Also the muscles of the back of the leg called the hamstrings must be strong to support the spine when doing functional activities. The transversus abdominis (the deep abs underlying the top layer of abs) must be strong to support the lower back. These are strengthened by core training exercises such as the plank, a popular one used in yoga and Pilates training.
Now before we get to some exercises to do to get you on your way to a healthier back, let's discuss the flexibility component of this plan. Shortened muscles can throw the spine out of alignment and cause back pain. Stretching exercises
lengthen shortened muscles and relieve back pain. Tight back muscles, tight buttocks muscles, and even tight hamstrings (back of thigh muscles) or quadriceps (front of thigh muscles), can affect the alignment of the spine. Stretching the back with stretching exercises also increases mobility of the joints of the spine.
Always warm up before stretching exercises. Five minutes of walking, or exercise bike, elliptical trainer, or even marching on the spot is enough. Not warming up before stretching leaves your back susceptible to injuries causing back pain. Warm muscles are more flexible than cold muscles and are less likely to tear.
Now before you begin this or any program, ask your doctor if the following exercises are appropriate for you to do. Check with your physician before doing exercises that involve twisting or arching the back if you have a back condition
Stretching exercises may be done daily. Strengthening exercises should be done three or four times per week - the days off give your body a chance to recover. It may take 6 week to 8 weeks to notice results. If at any time you feel pain or discomfort, stop the exercise.
Here are some stretches you can do for increased flexibility.
(Start with five repetitions of each exercise. If you can handle five repetitions without post exercise pain, then slowly add a couple of repetitions each week until you reach 15 repetitions).
If at any time you feel discomfort or pain, stop the exercise. Usually shortening the range of motion is a good way to correct that, but if you don't feel comfortable with it after modifying the stretch, stop doing it.
Pelvic Tilt: lower back stretching exercise (also strengthens abs)
Lie on back, knees bent, feet flat on floor. Tighten buttocks and abdomen, flattening small of back against the floor. Hold for a count of five. Slowly relax. Repeat five - fifteen times.
Knee to Chest: Gluteal stretching exercise
Lie on back, knees bent, feet flat on floor. Grasp left leg behind the knee/back of thigh and pull knee towards left shoulder. Hold for a count of five. Switch sides. Repeat 5 times.
Piriformis Stretch: (Stretches Muscles that lie beneath gluteal muscles)
Lie on your back
Place your left ankle over your right leg, just above the knee and pull both legs toward your chest. Push the bent knee away from you and pull the opposite leg in toward you.
Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on other side.
Basic Twist: lower back stretching exercise.
Lie on back, arms stretched out to the sides.
Bend knees and bring knees up close to your chest
Take a deep breath
Exhale as you slowly lower knees (keep knees together) to floor to the right or as close to the floor as is comfortable.
Inhale as you slowly return your knees to chest.
Exhale as you slowly lower knees to left side
Inhale as you return your knees to chest.
Repeat about 5 times.
The Cat: back stretching exercise
Begin on all fours, hands directly under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips.
Inhale as you drop tummy towards the floor and look up over your head.
Exhale as you bring your tummy back up, rounding your back as you tuck your chin in and tuck your tailbone in.
Move slowly back and forth between these two positions pausing on each pose.
Repeat about 5 times.
The Cobra: back and chest stretching exercise
Lay flat on stomach, forehead to ground, with arms bent and palms down on the ground under the shoulders.
Push downward with arms as you raise your upper torso and arch your back.
Hold for 3 full breaths before slowly bringing the upper torso back down to the ground.
Shoulder, Back, Arms Stretch:
Stand with knees slightly bent. Interlace fingers, extend arms forward at shoulder level. Turn palms out and reach your arms further until you feel a stretch. Hold 10 - 20 seconds. Repeat.
Stand with knees slightly bent. Hands behind the back, fingers interlaced. Turn palms up extend arms backward. Do not arch the back. Hold 10 - 20 seconds.
Sides, Waist Stretch:
Stand with knees slightly flexed. (Can also be done sitting down) Place your right hand behind your head. Grab your right elbow with your left hand and pull gently. Bend slowly to the left until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold 10 - 20 seconds. Switch sides. Repeat.
Shortened hamstrings can contribute to sway back
Hamstring (back of thigh) Stretch:
Sitting on floor, extend right leg, place left foot against right knee. Lean forward (keeping back straight), reaching for foot until you feel a slight pull on you hamstring. Hold for 10 - 20 seconds. Switch sides. Repeat
Hamstring (back of thigh) Stretch:
Lying flat on back. Raise left leg up. Grab leg and pull up further until you feel a gentle pull in the hamstring Hold for 10 - 20 seconds. Switch sides. Repeat.
Shortened quadriceps can contribute to sway back
Quadriceps (front of thigh) Stretch:
Stand up. Bend your knee behind you, grab your ankle and gently pull your heel toward you buttocks until you feel a gentle pull on the front of your thigh. Hold for 10 - 20 seconds. Switch sides. Repeat.
Wall Back Stretch: back / neck stretching exercise
Stand up with your back against the wall. Try to press the small of your back and the back of your neck toward the wall. Hold for 10 - 30 seconds. Do not overstretch!
To loosen up the neck, where many people carry their stress: Stand or sit up straight with the bottom of your spine turned under. (Do not arch your back) Let your head fall forward, keeping the neck and shoulders relaxed. Slowly roll your head to one side, then let it drop and roll to the other side. Be careful not to overstretch. Do not roll the neck backwards.
If at any time you feel discomfort or pain, stop the exercise. Usually shortening the range of motion is a good way to correct that, but if you don't feel comfortable with it after modifying the exercise, stop doing it.
Now that you are warmed up and well stretched, here are some back strengthening exercises. Start with a few and build up to more exercises when you begin to feel stronger. Don't overdo it.
*Activate the Abs First.
To activate your deep abdominal muscles, cough once (or pull in and tense your stomach). Hold this contraction during the following exercises to give the deep abs and other core muscles a simultaneous workout. Do not overdo the abdominal tensing. It should not be difficult. Do not hold your breath. This is what "tighten abs" in the following exercises refers to.
The Bridge: Strengthens several core muscle groups - buttocks, abs, back
Lie flat on back; bend knees at 90-degree angle, feet flat on floor. Tighten abs. Raise buttocks off floor, keeping abs tight. Shoulder to knees should be in straight line. Hold for a count of five. Slowly lower buttocks to floor. Repeat five times.
The plank exercises are advanced, so approach with caution once the other exercises have become easy and your strength has significantly increased. If at any time you feel pain or discomfort, stop the exercise.
The Plank: Strengthening exercise for back, abs and neck (also strengthens arms and legs)
Lay on stomach, place elbows and forearms on floor. In a push-up position, balance on your toes and elbows. Keep your back straight and legs straight. (Like a plank) Tighten abs. Hold position for 10 seconds. Relax. Repeat five to ten times. If this exercise is too difficult, balance on your knees instead of your toes.
The Side Plank: Strengthens the obliques (side abdominal muscles)
Lie on right side. Place right elbow and forearm on floor. Tighten abs. Push up until shoulder is over elbow. Keep your body in a straight line - feet, knees, hips, shoulders, head aligned. Only forearm and side of right foot are on floor (feet are stacked). Hold position for 10 seconds. Relax. Repeat five to ten times. Repeat on left side. If this exercise is too difficult, balance on stacked knees (bend knees and keep feet off floor) instead of feet.
The Wall Squat: Strengthening exercise for back, hips and quads.
Stand with your back against a wall, heels about 18 inches from the wall, feet shoulder-width apart. Tighten abs. Slide slowly down the wall into a crouch with knees bent to about 90 degrees. If this is too difficult, bend knees to 45 degrees and gradually build up from there. Count to five and slide back up the wall. Repeat 5 times.
Leg and arm raises: Strengthening exercise for back and hip muscles.
Lie on stomach, arms reached out past your head with palms and forehead on floor. Tighten abs. Lift one arm (as you raise your head and shoulders) and the opposite leg at the same time, stretching them away from each other. Hold for 10 - 20 seconds. Switch sides.
Leg lifts: Quad Strengthening Exercise
Lie flat on back. Bend left knee at 90-degree angle, keeping foot flat on floor. Tighten abs. Keeping the right leg straight, slowly lift it to the height of the left knee. Hold for a count of 3. Repeat 10 times. Switch sides.
*Safety Tip for Leg lifts:
Lifting both legs at the same time causes excessive stress on your lower back so only lift one leg at a time; the opposite leg should be kept slightly bent with foot on floor.
Basic Crunches: upper abdominal exercise
Lie on back, knees bent. Do not anchor feet. (Anchoring the feet or keeping the legs straight along the floor can strain the lower back). Arms may be folded over chest or kept at sides or hands can be held beside ears with elbows out. Tighten abs. Keep the lower back flat on the floor and neck straight. Keep chin tucked - looking at ceiling helps prevent tilting head up or down. Exhale when raising your torso off the floor and inhale when lowering. Just raise your head and shoulder off the floor - three to six inches is enough. Sitting up all the way is hard on your lower back. Do ten repetitions.
Neck muscles may tire out before the abs. You can use your hands to help support your neck - but be very careful not to pull on your neck or you could overstretch a neck muscle. Keep elbows out to the side to help avoid pulling neck forward. Don't start out doing too many crunches - the number of crunches performed should be increased slowly.
Move slowly when performing crunches- do not rely on momentum.
Rotational Crunch: obliques exercise (sides of the abdomen)
Rotational crunch is a slight variation of the regular crunch. (The variation - the direction you raise your head and shoulders off floor is diagonal). Lie flat on back, knees bent, feet flat on floor. Do not anchor feet. Tighten abs. Keep the lower back flat on the floor and neck straight. Rotate your body so that the weight rests on left shoulder. Then, keeping chin tucked, bring your head and shoulders upward and raise your right shoulder higher than the left. Move slowly.
Reverse Crunch: lower abdominal exercise
Lie flat on back, feet in the air. Bend knees 90 degrees. Place hands under buttocks for support and make sure your lower back remains flat on the floor. Tightening your lower abdomen, lift your buttocks a few inches off your hands. Hold for a moment and lower back down. Do 5 to 15 repetitions.
Leg Lifts: lower abdominal exercise
Lie flat on back. Bend one knee and keep foot flat on floor. Tighten abs. Lift opposite leg about 45 degrees. Hold for a count of 3. Repeat 10 times. Switch sides.
Backward Leg Swing: Gluteal exercise (The muscles of the buttocks help support the spine)
Stand, holding onto the back of a chair for support. Tighten abs. Swing leg back at a diagonal until you feel your buttocks tighten. Tense muscles as much as you can and swing leg back a couple more inches. Return leg to floor. Repeat 10 times. Switch sides.
Remember to start slowly and gradually add exercises and repetitions as you get stronger. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. It would be a smart idea to have a certified professional work with you for a while to get your form correct and make sure you are doing your stretching and exercising in the safest and most effective way.