Exercising your back and abdominal muscles helps keep your back healthy and strong. Strong and flexible back muscles prevent stress on the backbone, damage to the ligaments that hold the vertebrae in place, and the lower back pain that results from the stress of injury and inflammation.
Back and abdominal muscles wrap around the spine and protect it. Back muscles maintain space between the vertebrae and prevent the cartilage between them from wearing out and pinching the nerves. Maintaining strong back muscles helps prevent back injuries and lower back pain.
Muscle and ligament strain/sprain are the most common causes of low back pain. Back strain can result suddenly from lifting a weight, injury, or a fall, or come on gradually as a culmination of weak muscles and a poor posture.
Generally, back pain from strain or sprain can resolve with bed rest for a short period, but staying inactive for too long can worsen the problem. Strengthening the back with exercises is the best solution for stopping back pain from becoming chronic.
How Do You Strengthen Your Lower Back?
Following a regular workout regimen that includes back strengthening exercises is the best way to improve your low back muscles. But back muscles should not be your only targets: developing a strong back also requires strengthening of the abdominal, gluteal (buttocks), and hip muscles to reduce strain on the back.
Exercise regimens for the back should ideally include strengthening, stretching, and low-impact aerobic exercises. Pilates, weights, exercise ball, and resistance training are great strengthening exercises.
Don’t start any exercise routine without first consulting your doctor, especially if you have pain symptoms or are recovering from an injury.
What Are the Best Exercises for Lower Back?
If you are recovering from back pain, it is best to start with gentle exercises, with the guidance of a physiotherapist. You should be able to incorporate more intensive exercises as your fitness improves. Always check with your doctor or physical therapist before starting an exercise and learn the right way to do it. Do not do an exercise that aggravates your pain.
Following are some of the best exercises for a strong and flexible back:
- Superman: Strengthens your back, glutes, and hips. Lie on the stomach, extend your arms in front and raise your arms and legs off the floor.
- Pelvic tilt: Strengthens your abdominal muscles. Draw in your navel, tighten your stomach muscles and press your lower back down on the floor so the pelvis tilts up.
- Plank: Strengthens the abdominal muscles. Keep your body raised parallel to the floor with only elbows and toes resting on the floor.
- Bridge: Strengthens the glutes. Lie on your back with knees bent and arms by the side, lift your torso and tighten your glutes, with the shoulders firmly on the floor.
- Partial crunches: Strengthens the abdominal muscles. Lie on your back with knees bent and arms crossed behind your head, draw the stomach muscle in and lift your shoulders off the floor.
- Lateral leg raises: Strengthens your hip muscles. Lie on your side and raise your leg up. Repeat on the other side.
- Child pose: Stretches the back, glutes, and hamstring. Sit with knees bent under you and lean forward with forehead touching the floor, arms extended or by your side.
- Cat-camel stretch: Stretches the spine, shoulder, neck, and chest. Get on all fours and alternately turn your head up and look down as you arch your back.
- Knee-to-chest: Stretches your hips and glutes. Lie on your back and bring one or both knees to the chest. You can also bring your head up to meet the knees for a more intense stretch.
- Piriformis muscle stretch: Piriformis is a muscle deep in the buttock. Lie on your back with one knee bent and the other ankle over the bent knee. Then gently pull the bent knee forward.
- Kneeling lunge stretch: Stretches the hip flexor muscles in the front of the thighs. Kneel on one knee with the other leg forward, bent at the knee with foot flat on the floor, and gently lean forward.
Low-impact aerobic exercises
- Stair climbing
- Stationary bicycling
How Do You Prevent Lower Back Pain?
Wear and tear that comes with age cannot be stopped, but adopting a healthy lifestyle can prevent lower back pain to a great extent, especially as you age. Following are some positive lifestyle habits:
- Eat healthy and maintain an optimum weight
- Exercise regularly, following established form and safety precautions specific to your chosen exercise regimen
- Maintain a good posture
- Avoid sitting for long periods
- Use proper technique (focused on leg muscles rather than back muscles) when lifting objects or while doing other activities that involve bending or twisting
- Get enough sleep
- Avoid smoking
When Should I Go to the Doctor for Lower Back Pain?
See a doctor if:
- Your pain is intolerable or doesn’t improve with rest and gentle exercises
- Your leg feels numb or weak
- You develop difficulty with bladder and/or bowel control; this can be a medical emergency as it may indicate spinal nerve damage
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