Bridge pose
Personal Health

Low Back Pain Exercises and Tips to Help

Back pain is one of the most common reasons adults seek out medical care. This type of chronic pain has many different causes, and treatment can range from pain medication to physical therapy or even surgery. On your own time, adding some low back pain exercises into your workout routine can build strength and help relieve pain.

Causes and Risk Factors of Back Pain

The National Institutes of Health explains that injuries, such as muscle strains from improper lifting, are a common source of pain. A number of diseases and health conditions, such as arthritis, or mechanical issues, such as degeneration of the disks that cushion the vertebrae, can also result in pain. In rare occasions, tumors or infections may cause back pain. There are some risk factors for developing back pain -- age, race, diseases, and hereditary conditions -- that cannot be avoided.

However, many risk factors can be addressed to reduce the chances of developing this type of pain. Taking good care of your body is the best first step to reducing this type of pain. Maintain a healthy weight so your back is not overburdened, and get plenty of exercise to keep your body moving and functioning well. Keep your exercise routine moderate and consistent, rather than swinging between the extremes of sedentary periods and then jumping into vigorous activity. Also, pay attention to your posture. Whether you sit at a computer all day or have a job that involves a great deal of physical activity, posture issues can lead to injuries and back pain. Injuries from heavy lifting or twisting and turning motions are common, so be sure to use proper lifting techniques.

How Exercise Can Help

There are four different types of exercise that can address back pain. Aerobic exercise helps maintain overall body health, but it's important to choose low-impact exercises without too much bouncing, twisting, or vigorous forward bending. Stretching exercises can help strengthen muscles and improve your mobility and range of motion. Extension exercises bend you backward, helping to develop the muscles along the spinal column. Flexion exercises are those where you bend forward, which helps develop supportive muscles in the back and buttock, and can reduce the pressure on the nerves that run through the spine.

An exercise program to address back pain should start slowly, with incremental increases to repetitions as the strength improves and pain lessens. In addition to low-impact aerobic exercise, such as walking or using an elliptical trainer, the following low back pain exercises are recommended by the American Chiropractic Association for improving mobility and building strength.

  • Bridge: Lying on your back, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. With knees together, press down into the floor firmly with your feet while lifting your buttocks off the floor, and then gently lowering back the floor. Repeat 20 times.
  • Piriformis Stretch: Lying on your back with your knees bent, lift your right leg and rotate so your calf is perpendicular to your left leg. Pull your bent leg in toward your chest, creating a gentle stretch in your buttock. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, and release your foot back down to the floor. Duplicate the stretch on the left side.
  • Back Stretch: Lying face down, place your palms down and push into the floor lifting your upper body. Bend your back to create a gentle stretch through your back. Hold for 30 seconds and then relax.
  • Leg Raises: Lying face down, with legs straight, lift one leg a couple inches off the floor and lower it back to the floor. Repeat this move 20 times for each leg.
  • Pointer: Get on your hands and knees on the floor. Extend your right arm in front of you and your left leg behind you, keeping both limbs parallel to the floor. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, and then repeat with your left arm and right leg.

While back pain is a common problem, it can be intolerable and sometimes costly in terms of work lost and medical bills. Back pain is also often short-lived and eases after a few days with some gentle stretches and walking. However, if it's excruciating, accompanied by tingling or numbness, or persists for more than a few days, it's time to see your doctor. Take care of your back -- keep it strong and keep moving.

Posted in Personal Health

Judy Schwartz Haley is a freelance writer and blogger. She grew up in Alaska and now makes her home in Seattle with her husband and young daughter. Judy battled breast cancer when her daughter was an infant, and now she devotes much of her free time to volunteering as a state leader with the Young Survival Coalition, which supports young women with breast cancer.

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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.