Easy and fast exercises and stretches to strengthen lower back – lower back pain relief
Basic exercise categories that may help reduce or prevent lumbago:
- Lower back strengthening exercises – focusing on the low back, abdominal and leg muscles; muscle strengthening is perhaps the single-most effective way of preventing and relieving recurring or chronic back pain
- Lower back stretching exercises – maintain flexibility of muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia of low back to reduce pain and make less prone to injury
- General aerobic exercise – activities that are strenuous enough to elevate the heart rate and increase the depth and speed of breathing will condition the heart and all other muscles to improve and maintain health, and speed recovery of low back injury
Benefits of back exercises
Weak and contracted core muscles (back, abdomen, hips and buttocks) are often the fundamental problem that allows lower back pain to recur and worsen over time. These core muscles and related tendons and ligaments should work together to support and stabilize the spine in good alignment while walking, running, lifting, exercising and working. Improving the tone and flexibility of these areas reduces the risk of injury to the spinal joints, discs, back muscles & ligaments during all daily activity and provides for lower back pain relief.
Lower back stretches
At a minimum, these four lower back stretches should be done daily:
- Pelvic tilt – Lie on a comfortable surface, face up with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor about shoulder width apart, with arms comfortably at the sides. Tilt or roll the hips backward so that the abdomen flattens a little and the low back is pressed against the floor. Hold the spine pressed against the floor for the count of 10, then relax for a few seconds. Repeat 5-10 times.
- Double Knee to Chest – Lie on a comfortable surface, face up with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor, about shoulder width apart. Reach up with both hands and hold behind both knees, and pull back on knees a little to bring the feet of the floor. Continue bringing knees up toward chest until both knees are comfortably close to the chest. Hold knees toward chest for count of five, then lower legs to floor. Repeat 5-10 times.
- Back Arch – While in a standing position with feet approximately shoulder width apart, reach back with the hands and place the palms of the hands on the lower back. Allow the weight of the upper body to bend the lumbar spine comfortably backwards, exhaling and supporting the back with the open palms just slightly above the hips. Do not bounce the lumbar spine backward, and do not allow the knees to bend. Hold for count of five. Repeat 5-10 times.
- Side Stretch – While in a standing position with feet approximately shoulder width apart, bring the right arm over the head and rest the right forearm on top of the head, while allowing the upper body to bend laterally to the left. The weight of the right arm on the head will assist the lateral bending to the left. Keep the palm of the left hand on the left hip. Do not bounce or force the lateral bending movement, and do not rotate the spine. Hold for count of five. Alternate laterally bending to the right side with the left arm on the head. Repeat to both sides 5-10 times.
Lower back strengthening exercises
How to do it: Lie on a comfortable surface, face up with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor about shoulder width apart. Firmly squeeze the buttocks together as the hips are raised up off the floor, so that a straight line from the shoulders to the knees is formed. Hold for a count of five, then slowly lower to the starting position. Repeat. Build up to 10-15 repetitions.
Effect: Strengthens and stretches the hip flexor muscles, and strengthens the muscles that stabilize the spine (lower back, all gluteal and abdominal muscles). Excellent exercise for those who spend prolonged time sitting.
Increase difficulty: While low back is arched upward, lift one foot from floor and hold it straight up toward ceiling, attempting to keep both hips even. Start by holding this exercise for only a few seconds. Repeat by holding opposite keg up toward ceiling. Hold for a count of five, then slowly lower to the starting position. Repeat. Build up to 10-15 repetitions.
How to do it: Begin on the floor “on all fours” (kneeling on the knees and resting the hands on the floor), with hands shoulder width apart and knees hip width apart. Squeeze the abdominal muscles tightly by pulling the belly up firmly toward spine. Do not arch the back or raise spine, or rotate the hips. While the abdomen is flattened and contracted, lift and extend the right leg backward and lift and extend the left arm straight forward; in this pose you will be held upright only on your left knee and right hand. Hold for a few seconds, eventually building up to 5-10 seconds, then slowly lower to the starting position. Repeat. Build up to 10-15 repetitions.
Effect: Improves muscle strength and coordination of low back, abdominal, gluteal and hamstring muscles. Improves posture and stamina for all common activities of daily living.
Increase difficulty: Gradually increase pose holding time to 20-30 seconds. Also, slowly lower and raise the extended arm and leg just a few inches while maintaining correct posture.
How to do it: Lie on a comfortable surface on the right side, resting with the body in a straight line from head to feet, with the upper body weight carried on the right forearm and elbow. The right elbow should be directly under the right shoulder. Firmly contract the abdominal muscles as the pelvis is lifted off the floor, by resting all the body weight on the side of the right ankle and the right forearm. Maintain body position in a straight line. Keep the hips square (do not rotate the pelvis) and the neck in line with the spine. Hold for 15-45 seconds, eventually building up to 1-2 minutes, then slowly lower to the starting position. Repeat 2-5 times. Alternate on left side. If this is too difficult, simply start with knees bent.
Effect: Wonderful low back exercise because of ability to increase strength and endurance in the core muscles. Protects and stabilizes lower back during activities that requires movement in hips or back.
Increase difficulty: While rigidly holding the basic plank position, raise and lower the top leg, or as an added difficulty raise and hold the top leg up for 5-10 counts. Most difficult: Support the body weight on the palm of the hand, not the forearm and elbow, with the arm straight and palm directly under the shoulder.
How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, hands on your hips. Gently contract the abdominal muscles, and take a big step straight forward with the right foot. Bend both knees until the right knee is at a 90-degree angle, and without pausing push back up to the starting position. Repeat 10-12 times. Switch legs and repeat.
Effect: Improves whole-body control, which is key to protecting the spine during walking, running, or stair-climbing. Recruits both surface and deeper stabilizing muscles of the low back, gluteal, hamstring, quad, and calve muscles.
Increase difficulty: Stand as to do a basic lunge, but do not step straight forward with the right foot but step out diagonally as if the foot is pointing to 2 o’clock on the face of a clock. This angled foot placement makes it harder to balance, and causes greater work load on the involved muscles. When lunging with the left foot, step out diagonally to 10 o’clock. Also, to increase difficulty, interlace the fingers and place at the back of the head, or hold a dumbbell in each hand.
Some lower back exercises that can be harmful
Not all exercises that involve the low back are good for the low back; some can aggravate back pain. These exercises are to be avoided if there is a history of lower back pain:
- Toe touches while standing with knees locked straight.
- Straight leg sit-ups.
- Straight leg or bent-knee sit-ups done with the hands held at the back of the head.
- Lifting both legs while lying on your back (leg lifts).
- Lifting heavy weights above the waist, such as standing military press, bicep curls. French press.
- Bent leg sit-ups or partial sit-ups (curl-ups) when you have acute back pain.