Self-care measures are an extremely important tool for those that suffer from chronic or recurrent low back pain. Therapeutic exercises like the ones I will describe below, are simple, require no equipment, and should take less than 10-15 minutes per day to complete. If you have struggled with low back pain, a daily regimen of these exercises has the potential to reduce your symptom frequency, intensity, and duration when performed consistently.
These exercises are likely to cause some soreness, particularly if you are deconditioned. Should you experience concerning symptoms like pain lasting more than 24-48 hours after exercise or new/progressive neurological symptoms, I would encourage you to cease the exercises, consult with your doctor of chiropractic, physical therapist, or other musculoskeletal specialist so that they may determine if these exercises are the right choice in your particular case.
Here they are in no particular order:
- McGill Curl-Up: Developed by Dr. Stuart McGill, PhD., this modified abdominal curl is meant to challenge the abs while protecting the spine. If you have been to my office, then you know I am no fan of traditional crunches or sit ups. People’s tendency with these maneuvers is to recruit their hip flexing muscles which in-turn puts more stress on their already pained lumbar spines. To perform this exercise, lay on your back with your hands under your low back, palms down on the floor.Bend one knee and straighten the other leg fully. Raise your elbows off the floor and lift only your head and shoulder blades of the ground using your abdominal muscles. Focus on keeping your neck in line with the rest of your spine to avoid chin-jutting and strain. Dr. McGill recommends a pyramid type rep scheme, starting with 6 repetitions of 10 second holds, resting for 30 seconds upon completion; 4 repetitions of 10 second holds, resting for 30 seconds; 2 repetitions of 10 second holds, then you are done.
- Planking: A pretty classic core exercise that many people do incorrectly. The goal of the plank is to engage your core muscles in an effort to resist gravity’s desire to take you out of a good position. The variations that I recommend are traditional plank, side plank, and reverse plank. These exercises are difficult to describe in writing, but you’re in luck! I made a short video a while back that outlines common technique errors and recommendations for modifications and rep schemes. It can bee seen here.
One other thing I would like to add to the video is that if shoulder pain prevents you from being able to do side plank without pain, then you can modify by laying on your side and just trying to lift and hold your straightened legs off the ground. It is not going to be as effective as side plank, but is better than nothing!
- Quadruped Track or “Bird-Dog”: Another classic core exercise, and probably the first exercise that I was taught to teach to my patients during chiropractic school. Like the plank this exercise, the bird-dog is designed to challenge your ability to hold good spinal position against gravity, but introduces movement! From a table top position the goal is to reach one arm in front while pushing your opposite leg back to the wall behind you, lifting both until they are parallel to the floor and maintaining balance while holding this position. Dr. McGill also recommends this exercise to be performed as a descending pyramid as described above. I have also made a video of this exercise which can be viewed here.
*As a warm up to the bird-dog, you may consider doing cat-cow exercises in order to help you loosen any tightness in your back and find good neutral spine position before beginning.
- The Founder: This last exercise was actually developed by a chiropractor! Dr. Eric Goodman designed this exercise to isolate and challenge the low back erector muscles which tend to be underdeveloped and under-utilized by people who suffer from low back pain. It is probably the most advanced and technical exercise that I have put on this list, so I’d just recommend you watch the video put together by the man himself, here.
There ya have it, folks. A list of 4 simple exercises which can be done to help most people get out of and stay out of low back pain. The most important thing about these is that they be done consistently. If you include these as part of a self-care regimen that includes recognizing and avoiding triggers, proper nutrition, and occasional meditation techniques for stress reduction, then you should be in pretty good shape!
If you have any questions, or need some manual therapy to help get you over the hump during a flare up, then I’m here to help. Just give the office a call.