I know a lot of people have or have at some time experienced low back pain. From my Chiropractic and fitness perspective, I decided to write this article to help you learn how to eliminate your low back pain with exercise. Yay!
Low back pain is THE most common reason why people seek chiropractic care, and the most common reason why I treat people. According to the American Chiropractic Association, approximately 80% of Americans will have it at least once in their life. That’s a lot of people. When someone with low back pain comes to me for treatment, there are several key evaluations I perform.
- First, I check their spinal function. What chiropractors adjust, or move, we typically call a subluxation. What this means is that a joint is not functioning properly and can affect the spinal nerve that leaves the spine at that segment. With a properly functioning spine, we have proper nerve innervation to our body parts (muscles, sensation, organs, etc).
- I check their movement patterns, which means I watch them do a squat (and other functional movements such as an overhead squat, step ups, lunges). This tells me how their muscles are performing everyday activities, and where there is dysfunction in their biomechanics, which will put strain on their low back (or other areas).
- I check passive range of motion of the hips. A huge source of low back pain is from dysfunction of the hips and decreased range of motion. I look for adequate flexibility and symmetry.
- I always ask my patients what position they sleep in. Sleeping position has a huge effect on resting position of joints and muscles. If you are spending a majority of the night in a compromising position, your muscles will adapt to the position and create dysfunction. As an example, when I was in school I started sleeping with my right leg in a figure 4 position (with my knee out to the side). I knew I shouldn’t be sleeping this way, however I continued. A month later, I was having sciatic pains down my right leg. I no longer have those problems, but to this day I have an imbalance between my hips, which causes me issues with sitting and my glut not working on that side.
- Lastly, sitting is a TREMENDOUS problem for low back pain sufferers. So I find out the sitting habits of my patient. Extended periods of sitting causes the hip flexor muscles to shorten and to inhibit the gluteus muscles from properly working. This is a big problem for the low back because the gluteus muscles support proper movement of the lumbar spine.
Before we get into the exercises, a few other things should always be addressed with low back pain.
- STRETCH! Yes, you need to stretch! I have noticed that many people ‘know’ they should stretch, but still seem to see it as an inconvenience. Stretching your hips, legs, and spinal musculature helps to counteract muscle tightening that is conducive of stiffness and dysfunction. If you start to stretch, you will truly see what a difference it can make. Read about stretching here. Foam rolling can also be beneficial to help break down myofascial tightness/scarring. Read about foam rolling here.
- Sit properly and take breaks! In order to sit with your back in proper alignment (meaning there is no strain on your joints), scoot your butt to the edge of the chair so that your pelvis rolls forward. Now you are aligned and your back will be able to rest properly. If you have to sit at work, make sure you stand up and walk around once every hour, or as much as possible. Other alternatives include a standing desk (like this one here) or a kneeling chair (like this one here).
- Make sure your sleeping position isn’t causing you problems. Sleeping positions you want to avoid are on your stomach (as this puts strain on the joints of your low back) and figure 4 (as this will decrease your hip internal rotation and will affect your low back).
- EXERCISE! Now for the fun part 😉 Here are beneficial exercises to help strengthen your low back, hips, and legs.
Because many of us sit for a good portion of the day AND with bad posture, our erector muscles in the low back become weak. In correlation with low back pain, we also see that there is atrophy or muscle wasting of the multifidi muscles. So let’s work on strengthening these both first! Whenever I teach a patient corrective exercises for low back problems, I always go to Foundation Training by Dr. Eric Goodman. He was ahead of me in school and has developed this transformative program on restoring proper function of the low back. He has been gracious enough to post many free videos on Youtube and you can do a free 12 minute workout with him here.
The next important exercise for a strong, healthy low back is the squat. A strong gluteus maximus muscle is important to support your low back to maintain proper biomechanics. A properly functioning glute will help allow your hip flexors to relax. If your hip flexors are always tight and tensed, it pulls on your low back as it originates there, which can create pain. Read about the benefits of squats here. Here is my list of 6 great exercises for your butt.
Lastly, how can I forget the physical benefits of yoga! Yes, yoga! There are so many men and women who have discovered the wonderful world of yoga (in Southern California). Every time I attend class anywhere, it is full! Of course the sole purpose of yoga is not the physical, but it does help strengthen and lengthen us… allowing us to be more functional. And as we reap the physical benefits, we also go through other transformations as well. I highly suggest that everyone try yoga!
So now you have the imperative exercises and the other goodies to ensure a health, strong low back! I wish you wellness and a pain-free low back!