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Back pain is all too common. The National Institute of Health reports that 8 out of 10 of us will experience moderate to severe back pain at least once in our lives. Most people will experience several days of back pain, multiple times in their lives.
Your risk for this is high if you have an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, if you work at a desk, sit on a couch for hours in a day or if you don’t have a regular fitness routine.
However, the good news is that there are some safe, easy movement exercises that I would offer as a way to prevent back pain. These same motions that prevent back pain also reverse back pain and are safe for almost any previous low back condition.
The one safety rule is: Do all motions up to, but not past, the point of pain. A stretching feeling is good. Sharp pain or radiation (to another area) of pain or numbness says to stop.
Researchers found that people who exercised at least two or three times a week slashed their odds of having a lower back pain episode by 35%. When added to education about preventing back pain (such as learning the proper way to lift, better ergonomics, improved posture), exercise cut risk by 45%.
If you have either local pain (that stays in the joints of the back) or radiating pain or numbness, now would be a good time to find a good Chiropractor and get back on track. With these exercises, performed on a regular basis, you probably won’t have a reason to use pain pills for low back pain and can prevent injury or re-injury.
Below are five exercises that can be included into your daily routine to strengthen your core muscles. These motions will keep your back strong and safe. This will prevent back pain when performed regularly.
Five moves to help prevent back pain
1 – Bird Dog: This move is great for working your core because it activates all the major muscle groups that flex, extend, and laterally bend both your abdominal and back muscles.
First come into a tabletop position on your hands and knees. Hands are placed directly underneath your shoulders. Knees are directly underneath your hips.
Make a flat or neutral spine so you’re not pressing up or sinking down; stay right in the middle.
Reach your right hand forward parallel with the floor while extending your left leg back, also parallel with the floor in the opposite direction (“Bird Dog” position).
Now, really reach toward opposite sides of the room with the extended limbs, then come back through neutral position and switch sides. Repeat 4 times on each side, holding for 10 seconds, alternating sides.
2 – Forearm Plank Reach: This is a moving forearm plank that forces you to activate your core as you move to alternating positions.
First come onto your elbows in plank position and maintain a nice, solid core. To do this, tighten your abs and squeeze your buttocks together like you are holding a $100 bill between your butt cheeks. Widen your feet to become very stable. From here, reach one hand forward, and then alternate. Prevent your hips from moving by tightening your core muscles. This is your goal: to keep your hips nice and still, and parallel to the ground. Repeat 4 times on each side, holding each arm in the extended position for 10 seconds each, alternating sides.
3 – Safe Side Stretch: This move is great because it opens up both your hips and your back. Often times, back pain can be the result of tightness in other areas of your body such as your upper back or your hips. You want to allow for a stretch in any muscles that are tight or that might be compensating for opposing weak muscles. Stretching holds equal value to strengthening.
Start by going into a plank. Bring your hands underneath your shoulders. Next, bring your right foot up to meet your right hand – just to the outside of it. , and then you’re going to twist open with your right hand, reaching for the sky. Then make sure that left leg stays straight by squeezing your left buttock muscles (gluteals).
Now switch sides. Replace your right foot back into plank position. Bring your left foot up right next to your left hand. Open 180 degrees again, reaching for the sky. Remember to tighten the straight leg gluteal muscles. Hold for 10 seconds each. Repeat 4 times on each side, alternating.
4 – Mid-Spine Twist: This move is a twist designed to open up your T-spine (thoracic or upper back). So to prevent back pain in this area while performing this motion, you want to create stability in your lower spine and mobility in your mid-back.
First lie down on your side with both arms straight out to your side, one on top of the other. Knees bent to 90 degrees, one on top of the other, keeping a straight or neutral spine. Stack your shoulders and your hands on top of each other. Begin by opening your top arm until the back of it touches the floor on the opposite side. Your arms are now 180 degrees from each other. Your knees are still together on the original side.
Now repeat on the opposite side. Hold for 10 seconds each. Repeat 4 times each side, alternating.
5 – Low Back Hold Leg Lift: Lie down on your back, with a towel rolled up and placed across the lowest portion of your back, just above your hips.
Keep your neck in neutral position with your head on the ground. Engage your core as you lift both legs up 6 inches. Now keep your left leg at a height of 6 inches while the right leg raises straight up as high as you can go. Hold for 3 seconds. Put the right leg back to 6 inches as the left leg goes up as high as it can go. Repeat 10 times, alternating legs.
The towel is there for you to press into to keep a neutral spine, protecting the low back and to make sure that you are activating your lower core.
Daniel Steffens, PhD1,2; Chris G. Maher, PhD1; Leani S. M. Pereira, PhD2; Matthew L Stevens, MScMed (Clin Epi)1; Vinicius C. Oliveira, PhD2; Meredith Chapple, BPhty3; Luci F. Teixeira-Salmela, PhD2; Mark J. Hancock, PhD3 , Prevention of Low Back Pain A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis, February 2016, JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(2):199-208. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.7431.
Mayer S., Targeted exercise for muscles that support the spine reduces low back pain, Cochrane review shows. BMJ. 2016 Jan 7;352:i84. doi: 10.1136/bmj.i84.