Bone and Joint Health

An Active Approach to Feeling Better: Exercises for Lower Back Pain

About 80 percent of adults experience low back pain at some point during their lifetime. When it comes to pain (whether it's your back, knees, or elsewhere) it's easy for professional guidance to sound like a broken record, but it's true -- an active approach to care by regularly performing exercises for lower back pain is vital, even if you have yet to suffer regular pain in that region.

Potential causes of lower back pain include sprains and strains; disc degeneration, rupture, and/or herniation; skeletal irregularities; and spinal degeneration or deformities. Because there's such a wide range of causes, it's not prudent to provide a blanket exercise program without understanding your own specific diagnosis and symptoms. So while you should consider implementing the following exercises as part of your regular routine, be sure to seek pain management direction from your doctor before you do so.

Back Extensor Endurance Training

A recent study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy examined 17 mechanical factors related to low back pain and revealed that back extensor endurance (or lack thereof) had the highest association. In other words, if you increase the endurance of your lower back muscles, you are less likely to get injured and/or feel pain. In order to gain endurance, focus less on weight and more on repetitions of high quality. In addition to isolated back extensor training, it's important to work on your entire core through exercises such as planks.

Back Extensor Strength Training

Although exercising to mitigate back fatigue is vital, that doesn't mean you should forget about strengthening that region. In fact, lumbar extensor exercises aimed at improving strength in the lower back have been shown to decrease pain and improve perceptions of physical function in individuals with chronic low back pain. Remember that when doing strengthening exercises, go for quality over quantity, never losing sight of good form, even if it comes at the expense of performing fewer repetitions.

Hip Strength Training

If you have weak hips, especially weak hip extensors, you may be overcompensating with harmful movement in your low back, leading to overload, injury, and/or more pain. Individuals with chronic low back pain have been shown to have significantly weaker hips than those without low back pain, so get in the gym and work on those hips.

Yoga or Stretching

A landmark study from the Annals of Internal Medicine revealed that, for individuals with chronic low back pain, participation in 12 weeks of yoga was more effective than conventional therapeutic classes aimed at improving low back function. But if yoga isn't your thing, be sure to incorporate a complete stretching protocol into your exercise routine.

There are so many resources out there that can help you improve your lumbar and core strength through exercises for lower back pain -- just be sure your doctor is on board before you get going. And though this may seem like common sense, if you do have low back pain, make sure to eliminate, or at least alter, the postures and activities that contribute to pain. Here's to an active lifestyle and being a part of the 20 percent who do not experience low back pain!

Posted in Bone and Joint Health

Dr. Rami Hashish achieved his doctorate of physical therapy from the University of Washington School of Medicine and holds a doctorate in biokinesiology from the University of Southern California. Following his Ph.D. work, Dr. Hashish cofounded a footwear technology startup, JavanScience, which develops customizable footwear to help relieve and prevent foot and leg problems. Dr. Hashish is also active in the clinic, serving as the director of physical therapy for Regenerative Medicine - Pacific Pain & Wellness Group, at Urban Med in downtown Los Angeles.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.