It’s quite common for people dealing with low back pain to find themselves cutting back on their activities in an attempt to escape the discomfort. Unfortunately, this often leads to a gradual weakening of the core muscles—the ones that provide support to your midsection—because they aren’t being used regularly. This weakened core can actually increase the risk of further injuries.
So, the key to improving your low back pain situation effectively is to start by practicing core-strengthening exercises and maintaining gradually and as tolerable!
Think about doing one to three sets of ten repetitions each for simplicity, and always remember to release each exercise slowly—avoid abruptly returning from the end position of the exercise.
When we talk about the abdominal muscles, they can be broken down into four groups: the rectus abdominis (these connect your rib cage to your pelvic area, with fibers running straight up and down), the internal obliques (their fibers run down and inward, overlapping on the sides), the external obliques (fibers run down and out), and lastly, the transverse abdominis (with fibers running horizontally, attaching to the lower back’s fascia).
If we consider three levels of exercise difficulty, an easier approach (Level 1) to a sit-up could involve a “crunch” or simply lifting your head and shoulders off the floor. Stepping up the challenge (Level 2), you could bend your knees and hips at 90-degree angles while doing a sit-up. For a more demanding exercise (Level 3), try a double straight leg raise during the sit-up. The rectus abdominis benefits from straight up-and-down movement, while the obliques are worked through trunk twists. You can engage your core muscles, or perform an “abdominal brace,” in any position or activity during the day—it’s like bracing yourself for a stomach punch.
To bolster the muscles of your lower back extensors, there are several effective core-strengthening exercises to consider, including the “bird-dog” (starting on all fours) by extending the opposite arm and leg separately (Level 1), progressing to simultaneous movement and alternating sides (Level 2). At Level 3, you could extend hold times, trace a square with your hand and foot, or increase repetitions.
Another exercise to strengthen your lower back is the “Superman.” Lie on your stomach and start by lifting one arm and then the opposite leg separately (Level 1); then lift opposite limbs at the same time (Level 2); and finally, raise both arms and legs simultaneously (Level 3). Placing a cushion under your pelvis/abdomen can add comfort.
To target the side muscles of the core, or lateral trunk stabilizers, try a side bridge or plank (lying on your side, propped up on your elbow and feet, hips lifted off the floor). Level 1 might involve a six-second hold from your knees, Level 2 a six-second hold from your feet, and Level 3 could be a twelve-second hold between your elbow/forearm and feet. You can modify this with slow repetitions of lowering your pelvis to the floor and back up. Don’t be afraid to mix things up!
There’s a multitude of other Core-Strengthening Exercises out there, but these should give you a good starting point!
Remember, always stay within your “reasonable pain boundaries” that you set, release each exercise slowly, and most importantly, enjoy the process!
Better yet, start these before you even start to have low back pain to help prevent it from happening.