Strengthen Your Core, Alleviate Lower Back Pain: 3 Highly Effective Exercises
Core exercise for lower back pain can be helpful if you suffer from low back pain. Lower back pain is a common issue that affects numerous individuals, impacting their daily lives and overall well-being;. According to Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy, “Some 16 million adults — 8 percent of all adults — experience persistent or chronic back pain, and as a result, are limited in certain everyday activities.”1
One practical approach to managing and alleviating lower back pain is through targeted core exercises. Strengthening the core muscles helps provide stability and support to the spine, reducing the strain on the lower back. I will share seven highly practical core exercises specifically designed to alleviate lower back pain. These exercises are carefully selected to provide maximum benefits, by incorporating these exercises into your fitness routine:
- you can strengthen your core
- support your back,
- and experience relief from lower back pain.
The dead bug exercise is an effective way to strengthen the core while maintaining a stable and neutral spine. Performing the Dead Bug exercise can be beneficial for individuals with low back pain. This exercise specifically targets the core muscles while simultaneously promoting stability and coordination. The dead bug is beneficial in so many ways.
1. Core Muscle Activation:
The Dead Bug exercise primarily targets the deep core muscles, including:
- the transverse abdominis (deep abdominal muscles)
- the multifidus (deep spinal muscles).
These muscles play a crucial role in stabilizing the spine and providing support during movement. Weakness or imbalances in these muscles can contribute to low back pain. By performing the Dead Bug exercise, you activate and strengthen these deep core muscles, enhancing their ability to stabilize the spine and reduce low back pain.
2. Spinal Stability
Low back pain often occurs due to poor spinal stability, which can result from weak core muscles. The Dead Bug exercise is designed to improve spinal stability by challenging your ability to maintain a neutral spine position while moving your arms and legs. This exercise teaches you how to engage your core muscles to prevent excessive arching or rounding of the back during movement. By enhancing spinal stability, the Dead Bug exercise helps reduce stress on the low back and alleviate pain.
3. Anti-Extension and Anti-Rotation Training:
The Dead Bug exercise is considered an anti-extension and anti-rotation exercise. It trains your core muscles to resist excessive arching of the lower back (extension) and twisting or rotation of the spine. These movements can be harmful if not properly controlled, leading to low back strain or injury. By practicing the Dead Bug exercise, you strengthen the core muscles responsible for resisting these potentially harmful movements, providing stability and protection to the low back.
- Anti-extension exercises are designed to help you maintain a stable and strong core to prevent your lower back from arching too much or sagging excessively. In everyday life, anti-extension comes into play when you need to resist bending backward or overarching your lower back. For example, When you lift a heavy box off the ground, you engage your core muscles to prevent your lower back from excessively arching, keeping it stable and protected. Anti-extension is also used, While pushing a heavy object, like a stuck car, your core muscles work to maintain a neutral spine position and prevent your lower back from hyperextending.
*Performing planks: Planks are a common exercise that strengthens the core and promotes anti-extension. By maintaining a rigid and stable body position, you prevent your lower back from sagging or dipping during the exercise. (See Below)
- Anti-rotation exercises aim to enhance core stability and control by resisting twisting or rotation of the spine. These exercises help you maintain proper alignment and protect your spine from excessive rotational forces. You use anti-rotation in everyday activities while carrying groceries. When you carry heavy grocery bags in one hand, your core muscles engage to resist rotation and keep your torso stable. This helps you maintain an upright position and prevent strain on your low back.
In golf, generating power and accuracy relies on a stable core and controlled rotation. Anti-rotation exercises help train the core muscles to resist excessive twisting during the swing, leading to better performance and reducing the risk of back injuries. Another example is when you hold a baby on one hip, your core muscles activate to resist rotation and maintain balance. This helps you keep an upright posture and protects your spine from strain.
By incorporating anti-extension and anti-rotation exercises into your fitness routine, you can strengthen your core muscles and improve their ability to provide stability and support to your spine. This, in turn, can help prevent low back pain and reduce the risk of injury during various daily activities.
4. Muscle Coordination and Motor Control:
The Dead Bug exercise involves coordinated movement of the arms and legs while maintaining a stable core. This exercise challenges your ability to coordinate different muscle groups and promotes better motor control. By improving muscle coordination, you enhance the efficiency of movement and reduce the risk of compensatory patterns that may strain the low back.
5. Improved Posture:
Weak core muscles can contribute to poor posture, which can lead to low back pain. The Dead Bug exercise targets the deep core muscles responsible for maintaining proper spinal alignment. By strengthening these muscles, the exercise promotes better posture, reducing the strain on the low back and alleviating pain.
6. Low-Impact Exercise:
The Dead Bug exercise is a low-impact exercise and a great way to begin strengthening your core that minimizes stress on the low back. It doesn’t involve heavy loads or excessive spinal flexion or extension, making it a safe option for individuals with low back pain or those with restrictions on certain movements. It’s important to perform the Dead Bug exercise with proper form and technique to maximize its benefits and minimize the risk of injury. If you have existing back pain or any underlying conditions, it’s recommended to consult with a healthcare professional or a qualified fitness expert like myself. I am a NASM-certified Corrective Exercise Specialist and can provide personalized guidance based on your specific needs and help you determine the most appropriate exercises for your condition.
Perform a Dead Bug
Begin by lying on your back with your arms extended toward the ceiling and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Engage your core by gently pressing your lower back into the floor. Slowly lower your right arm and left leg towards the ground, maintaining control without arching your back. Return to the starting position and repeat with the opposite arm and leg. The dead bug exercise targets the deep abdominal muscles, improves coordination, and enhances spinal stability.
The plank is a fundamental core exercise that engages multiple muscles, including the abdominals, back, shoulders, and glutes. Performing planks can be an effective exercise for strengthening the core muscles and potentially alleviating low back pain. There are many reasons planks are beneficial in alleviating low back pain:
1. Core Muscle Strengthening:
Planks primarily target the muscles in your core, including:
- the rectus abdominis (the “six-pack” muscles)
- transverse abdominis
- erector spinae (muscles along the spine). You create a stable and supportive foundation for your spine by engaging and strengthening these muscles.
2. Spinal Stability:
Low back pain is often associated with poor spinal stability, which can be caused by weak core muscles. The core muscles play a crucial role in stabilizing the spine during movement and maintaining proper posture. When the core muscles are weak, the load and stress on the low back increase, leading to pain and potential injury. Performing planks challenge the core muscles to maintain stability throughout the exercise, helping to improve spinal alignment and reduce stress on the lower back.
3. Improved Posture:
Weak core muscles can contribute to poor posture, which can strain the muscles and ligaments in the low back. Planks promote good posture by strengthening the muscles responsible for maintaining an upright position but performed horizontally. When the core muscles are strong, they can better support the spine and prevent excessive rounding or arching of the back, reducing the risk of low back pain.
4. Increased Spinal Endurance:
Endurance is an important aspect of spinal health, especially for individuals who spend long hours sitting or engaging in activities that place prolonged stress on the back. Planks require maintaining an isometric contraction (holding the exercise without movement) for an extended period, which helps build endurance in the core and back muscles. Increased endurance allows the muscles to sustain the demands of daily activities and reduces the likelihood of experiencing low back pain due to fatigue. Performing planks consistently help build up endurance and muscle memory.
5. Joint Support and Load Distribution:
Planks also indirectly benefit the low back by promoting proper alignment and load distribution in the surrounding joints. When the core muscles are strong, they assist in stabilizing the hips, pelvis, and lumbar spine. This support helps maintain optimal joint positioning, reducing the strain on the low back during movements and activities.
6. Activation of Supporting Muscles:
Planks engage not only the core muscles but also other muscles that contribute to spinal stability. These include:
- the glutes
- hip flexors
- shoulder girdle muscles, such as the deltoids and trapezius.
By activating and strengthening these supporting muscles, planks create a comprehensive system of support for the spine, reducing the risk of low back pain. It’s important to note that while planks can be beneficial for low back pain, they may not be suitable for everyone.
Performing a plank
Begin by assuming a push-up position with your forearms resting on the ground and elbows aligned under your shoulders. Check out my post on the importance of planks: Get Strong Series: Day 1 Plank
Engage your core muscles by drawing your navel towards your spine. Maintain a straight line from your head to your heels, avoiding any sagging or arching of the back. Hold this position for as long as you can while maintaining proper form and breathing steadily. The plank helps improve core stability, strengthen the abdominal muscles, and support a healthy spine.
The bird dog exercise targets the core, lower back, and glutes while promoting stability and balance. This exercise specifically targets the core muscles, including the deep stabilizers of the spine, which can help alleviate pain and improve spinal stability. Bird Dogs are highly effective and beneficial in helping with lower back pain.
1. Core Muscle Activation:
The Bird Dog exercise primarily targets:
- the transverse abdominis (deep abdominal muscles)
- multifidus (deep spinal muscles)
- gluteus maximus (buttocks).
These muscles are essential for stabilizing the spine and providing support during movement. When these muscles are weak, it can lead to poor spinal stability and increased stress on the low back, resulting in pain. By performing the Bird Dog exercise, you activate and strengthen these core muscles, enhancing their ability to stabilize the spine and reduce low back pain.
2. Spinal Alignment:
Low back pain can often be associated with poor spinal alignment, such as excessive arching or rounding of the back. The Bird Dog exercise encourages proper spinal alignment by promoting a neutral position. When performed correctly, it helps align the spine, reducing excessive stress on the low back and improving overall posture. It’s similar to the Dead Bug but performed in a tabletop position and a progression from the dead bug.
3. Balance and Coordination:
The Bird Dog exercise involves simultaneously extending one arm forward and the opposite leg backward while maintaining a stable core. This exercise challenges your balance and coordination, requiring the muscles in your core and back to work together synergistically. By improving balance and coordination, the Bird Dog exercise helps develop better motor control, reducing the risk of falls or movements that could strain the low back.
4. Muscle Endurance:
Building endurance in the core muscles is crucial for individuals with low back pain, especially those who experience discomfort during prolonged activities or sitting. The Bird Dog exercise is an isometric exercise (holding the exercise without movement) that requires holding the extended position for a period of time. By performing this exercise regularly, you increase the endurance of the core muscles, allowing them to support the spine for longer durations and reducing the likelihood of pain caused by muscle fatigue.
5. Functional Movement Integration:
The Bird Dog exercise mimics the movement patterns involved in daily activities and functional movements. For example, imagine you’re standing and reaching across a table to grab a book from the other side. To execute this movement safely and effectively, you would engage your core muscles to stabilize your spine and maintain balance while simultaneously extending one arm forward and the opposite leg backward, similar to the Bird Dog exercise. This coordinated movement helps improve the strength, stability, and control of the core muscles, enhancing your ability to perform daily activities with reduced risk of low back pain or injury. By practicing this exercise, you improve the coordination and strength of the core muscles in a way that translates to real-life movements. This can help reduce the risk of low back pain during activities such as lifting, bending, or twisting.
6. Minimal Spinal Compression:
The Bird Dog exercise is a low-impact exercise that minimizes compressive forces on the spine. Unlike exercises that involve spinal flexion. Spinal flexion refers to the forward bending or rounding of the spine. It occurs when you bend forward, bringing your chest closer to your thighs and your head closer to your knees. In simple terms, it is the movement that makes your back hunch or round forward.
Imagine sitting on a chair and slouching forward, with your shoulders and upper back rounded. That’s an example of spinal flexion. Similarly, when you bend forward to touch your toes, you’re also performing spinal flexion.
Spinal flexion involves the bending of the individual vertebrae in your spine, which are the small bones that make up your backbone. These bones are connected by flexible discs and supported by ligaments and muscles.
While spinal flexion is a normal and necessary movement for certain activities, such as bending down to pick up objects from the ground, excessive or repetitive flexion can sometimes lead to strain or injury. It’s important to maintain proper posture and use caution when performing activities that involve significant spinal flexion, especially if you have a history of back problems or low back pain.
Bird Dogs don’t require heavy loads, the Bird Dog exercise is relatively gentle on the low back. This makes it a suitable exercise option for individuals with low back pain or those who may have restrictions on activities that compress the spine. It’s important to perform the Bird Dog exercise with proper form and technique to maximize its benefits and minimize the risk of injury.
Perform a Bird Dog
Begin on your hands and knees, with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Keep your spine neutral and engage your core muscles. Slowly extend your right arm forward while simultaneously extending your left leg backward, maintaining a straight line from your fingertips to your toes. Hold this position for a few seconds, then return to the starting position and repeat with the opposite arm and leg. The bird dog exercise strengthens the deep core muscles, improves spinal stability, and enhances overall body control.
Top 3 core exercises to help lower back pain
Incorporating these three core exercises into your fitness routine daily can significantly contribute to reducing lower back pain, improving core stability, and supporting a healthier spine. Remember to prioritize proper form, start with suitable modifications if needed, and progress gradually as your strength increases. However, if you’re experiencing chronic or severe lower back pain, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional. Strengthen your core, alleviate your lower back pain, and embark on a journey to a healthier and more active lifestyle.
- Chronic back pain. Health Policy Institute. (2019, February 13). https://hpi.georgetown.edu/backpain/#:~:text=Some%2016%20million%20adults%20%E2%80%94%208,limited%20in%20certain%20everyday%20activities.