Question for the Expert: Are there any exercises that will strengthen my lower back? Mine is painful when I get up in the mornings.

Asked by MinnieB

Answer:

Although you may not always feel like taking the time to exercise, it’s been proven to help prevent back pain. If you do just 15 minutes of back exercises three times a week, you’ll go a long way toward strengthening your back, neck and shoulder muscles. You’ll also be more flexible and less likely to injure your back any further. 

According to orthopaedic specialists, about 80% of back problems are due to weak abdominal and lower back muscles, in particular the deep lumbar extensors. Strength training for prevention and therapy is an effective approach.

It also keeps your spine flexible and maintains spinal disc elasticity. Make sure that when doing any of the exercises below, you pull in your belly button to engage your abdominal muscles, which will support your lower back. 

In addition, you should also avoid any exercise that involves repetitive bending at the waist, such as crunches, low back extensions, squats or deadlifts. And, obviously, if an exercise hurts, then don’t do it -- what works for some may be painful for others, so listen to your body. If you do suffer from lower back problems, be sure to check with your GP or specialist before you begin a strength training program. The exercises below are intended to prevent back pain. 

Knee hug: lie flat on the floor, tuck your chin towards your chest and hug both knees to your chest. Gently rock from side to side, and then front to back. This is a great way of waking up the spinal muscles first thing in the morning.

Walking: for at least 30 minutes a day on a flat surface; a 2004 study in The Spine Journal showed that a single session of walking can reduce lower back pain by up to 50%.

Wall squat: stand against a wall, then extend your legs so that your feet are about 2ft from the wall. Pull in your bellybutton, bend your knees, then slide your back down the wall. Ideally, you should have a 90 degree angle in the back of the knees, as if you were sitting. Make sure your knees don't come any more forward than your ankles. Squeeze your glutes and press your heels into the floor, keeping your chest lifted, back against the wall and your abdominals engaged. Hold for 30-60 seconds before sliding your back up the wall. Repeat 3 times.

Bridge: lie on your back and bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor at shoulder width. Your arms should sit next to your sides. Engage your abdominals and glutes, then lift your hips slowly off the floor, being very careful not to arch your back -- your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold for 30 seconds, then slowly lower your hips down. Repeat 5-10 times.

Swimming: backstroke and breaststroke are often well-tolerated by those with lower back injuries. You could also try an aqua aerobics class, as it's low impact and easy on the back.
Recumbent bicycle: sitting in an upright position on a recumbent bicycle can allow you to comfortably burn calories. If your back pain hasn't travelled into your legs, an elliptical trainer is another form of cardio that will allow you to exercise with a low back injury. Make sure you keep your chest lifted and glutes engaged.

Pilates: can help stretch and strengthen back muscles, as well as improve your posture. 
 

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