For many of us, back pain has been a frequent challenge. Personally, I have struggled with lower back injuries and pain way too often! As I get older, I am learning that there are effective ways to prevent lower back injuries and pain. According to Georgetown University Health Policy Institute (1), nearly 65 million people have recently experienced back pain, and 8% of adults live with chronic back pain daily. Back pain is one of the most common complaints reported to healthcare providers across the nation.
Strengthening your core is essential to preventing back pain. Your core is the central part of your body and contains 29 pairs of muscles. The abdominal muscles are in the front and the glutes and back muscles are in the back part of the core. These important muscles stabilize the spine and pelvis during movements, maintain proper posture, and protect the inner organs. When these core muscles are weak, the body must depend on other, passive structures like ligaments and spinal bones and discs for support. This may lead to inefficient movement and, eventually, lead to back injuries and pain.
Strong core muscles allow you to move well and prevent back injuries and pain. Here are five great exercises that can strengthen your core and help prevent back injuries and pain (2):
1) Bridges. Begin by laying on your back with your knees bent. Keep your back and hips in a neutral position. Tighten your abdominal muscles and slowly raise your hips off the floor, until they are aligned with your knees and shoulders. Resist tilting your hips. Hold this bridge for 2-3 breaths and release it back down to the floor. Do this 8-12 times.
2) Superman. Turn onto your stomach. Extend your legs out straight behind you, and your arms straight out in front of you. Raise your arms and legs at the same time a few inches off the ground—as if you are flying. Hold for 2-3 deep breaths and release. Do 2-3 sets of 10. If this is too difficult, you can alternate your legs and arms. Raise your left arm while lifting your right leg and hold for three deep breaths. Do 2-3 sets of 10 and repeat on the other side. Be sure to keep your head looking down so you don’t strain your neck.
3) Bird Dog. Get on all fours with your knees beneath your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Extend your left leg behind you while pointing your toes down. Reach your right arm forward, with your thumb pointing up. Hold this position for 2-3 deep breaths. Do 2-3 sets of 10 and repeat on the other side.
4) Wall Squats. Stand up straight with your back against the wall. Place your feet out about 12 inches in front of you. Bend your legs until they form a right angle and hold your arms out straight in front of you. Hold this for 2-3 deep breaths and return to an upright position. Do 2 sets of 10.
5) Planks. Planks are a higher-level exercise that can be added as you progress your strength and endurance. Begin by laying on your stomach for planks. Keep your body straight and lift up off the ground, using your elbows and toes to support your body weight. Hold this position for 20 seconds before releasing back down to the ground. Do this 10 times, gradually increasing the time you hold the position as your core strength increases. To modify this exercise, you can drop your knees to the ground. When you’re ready to increase the intensity, use your hands instead of your elbows to support your body.
May you enjoy abundant health,
Rick Christman, MPH