Exercises for Your Lower Back

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If you have low back pain or sciatica, your physical therapist will assess your condition and prescribe exercises to help improve your mobility and decrease your pain.

Lower back pain affects nearly everyone at one time or another. Studies indicate that postural awareness and exercise are two of the most important things you can do to manage lower back pain. By keeping proper posture and good mobility and strength in your lower back, you can also help prevent lower back pain from occurring.

Remember, if you have lower back pain that lasts more that a few weeks or that limits your ability to function normally, visit your doctor, physical therapist, or health care provider. Your physical therapist can assess your specific situation and prescribe the right exercises and treatments for your condition.

Here are a few simple exercises to try, but check in with your doctor before starting to be sure exercise is safe for your specific condition:

  1. Prone lying: Simply lie down on your stomach and rest. Stay in this position for 1-2 minutes and breathe slowly and deeply. After a few minutes in this position, move on to the next exercise.
  2. Prone prop-ups: While on your stomach, prop yourself up onto your elbows. Stay in this position for 1-2 minutes and breathe slowly and deeply in this position. Once this position becomes comfortable, move onto the next exercise.
  3. Press-ups: While lying on your stomach, put your hands flat on the floor under your shoulders, like you are going to start a push-up. Press your shoulders up and let your hips and low back relax. Your hips should remain in contact with the floor as you press up. Hold the end position for 1-2 seconds and return fully to the starting position. Perform 10 repetitions. Bonus exercise: the Prone Press Up with Hips Off Center.
  1. Pelvic tilt: While lying on your back, roll your pelvis backwards and press your low back flat into the floor. You should feel your abdominal and buttock muscles tighten as you perform this. Hold the position for 1-2 seconds, and slowly relax back to the starting position. Perform 10 repetitions.
  2. Supine lumbar flexion: Some conditions, like lumbar spinal stenosis, typically require lumbar flexion, or forward bending, to get better. A safe way to progress lumbar flexion is by starting supine, then moving on to seated flexion and finally lumbar flexion in standing.

    Remember that the most common cause of low back pain is poor sitting posture. It is very important to maintain proper sitting posture if you have low back pain. Use a small pillow or towel roll in the small of your back to help support your spine while sitting. Maintaining proper posture is also a great way to prevent low back pain in the future.

    Postural awareness can also be improved by performing the slouch-overcorrect exercise or by using innovative technology like the TruPosture Smart Shirt. By learning to attain and maintain proper posture, you can limit stressors to your back and potentially prevent back pain.

    These exercises should be performed three to four times per day when you are experiencing acute low back pain. Be sure to monitor your symptoms while exercising, and stop if you feel any increase in pain. If you have leg pain coming from your back, watch for the centralization phenonemon; this is a good sign that you are doing the right exercise for your condition  When your pain has subsided, perform the exercises once per day to help maintain a healthy spine and to help prevent future low back pain.

    If you are feeling low back pain, a self-care plan to manage the pain and restore mobility is essential. By keeping your spine mobile and strong and by maintaining good posture, you may be able to quickly return to your normal activities and lifestyle.

    Macedo, LG, etal. Effect of Motor Control Exercises Versus Graded Activity in Patients With Chronic Nonspecific Low Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Physical Therapy Mar 2012, 92 (3) 363-377.

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