We all know someone who suffers from back pain. In fact, four out of five Americans will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives making it one of the most common physical health problems in the United States.
Sciatica, one of the most common back-pain diagnoses, is defined as “any pain traveling in the sciatic nerve” which extends from the lower back to the feet according to North American Spine.
Common symptoms of sciatica include unusual feelings in the lower back such as pain, numbness, tingling or weakness; pain in the back of the legs and the rear that worsens when sitting; difficulty moving one’s leg or foot and shooting pain making it hard to stand.
Some causes of sciatica are out of our control such as aging, genetics or injury. However, symptoms of sciatica can be managed or diagnosis can be avoided altogether through exercise.
One of the best things you can do to soothe back pain is to strengthen and lengthen your core muscles. Creating a workout plan and incorporating a variety of lower back exercises into that plan will help you minimize your symptoms and feel better in your day-to-day life.
Yoga is all about well-rounded health. It helps us realign our focus to our mind, body and spirit. Several exercises practiced in yoga can help strengthen the core and lengthen the spine in a natural way that leaves us feeling better than before.
Usually done simultaneously, cat and cow poses will help warm up and soothe the spine before going into more intense yoga poses or other forms of exercise. Together, they increase range of motion and flexibility in the neck, shoulders, and most importantly the spine, while releasing tension throughout the back.
- Downward Dog
Downward dog is a great pose for aligning the spine in a new way. Best known for strengthening the legs and arms, it is also instrumental in opening the chest and lengthening the spine. On all fours with arms and legs fully extended, gravity will naturally lengthen your spine and strengthen your upper back.
Plank post is notorious for strengthening the core. Straightening the body while balancing on all fours will force you to focus on your abdominal muscles. In order to properly execute plank pose, the stomach must be lifted upward so that the body is completely straight from head to heels. It is a super introductory pose to add to your beginning practices that will help you build stamina and awareness for more advanced techniques down the road.
Holding bridge pose for a series of breaths will not only strengthen your core, but it will also stretch your lower abdominal muscles, rejuvenate tired legs and improve blood circulation. To get into bridge pose, lay on the ground and bring the heels of your feet close to your rear. On an inhale, press your feet and arms into the floor lifting your hips toward the ceiling.
Many of us know someone who has suffered a back injury from improper weight-lifting. When done correctly, lifting weights can be a major force in strengthening lower-back muscles and avoiding future injury.
- Bent-Over Rows
Exercises such as bent-over rows are a perfect example of resistance training using weights. With the back isolated and the palms facing down, allow a slight bend in your knees and angle your torso forward. Bend at the waist and maintain a straight, stationary back while lifting the barbell toward you for several sets. Regularly practicing this exercise will improve posture and spine stability over time.
- Reverse Dumbbell Fly
Incorporating reverse dumbbell fly into your weightlifting routine will have instrumental effects on your posture. Balancing strength between muscles that pull your shoulders forward and backward are crucial for sitting and standing properly without much focus in your day-to-day life.
The deadlift is credited to be one of the most important core-building workouts in weightlifting. It targets all core muscles and teaches individuals to hold their back straight when performing everyday activities. It can be extremely helpful for learning to maintain good posture in motion – not just when sitting and standing.
- Lap Swimming
Swimming gives us the experience of a good workout without high-impact conditioning that can be tough on our joints. The water supports your weight which reduces overall stress on your body. Although some strokes may be detrimental to spine health if not done correctly, paying close attention to your aquatics exercises will benefit your spine health immensely.
Other Abdominal Exercises
- Pelvic Tilts
Similar to bridge pose, pelvic tilts are great for those of us who spend the majority of our days sitting still. This exercise helps release low-back tightness and strengthen abdominal muscles. Unlike bridge pose in yoga, this exercise is meant to be done several times in a series of sets.
Another yoga pose in motion, pike is very similar to downward dog. Whether you have access to a exercise ball, a TRX strap or a really slippery floor, the pike will help you tone and strengthen your entire upper body using your own weight. To execute the pike, start in plank position with your feet on the floor, exercise ball or in the TRX straps. Then, lift your hips up toward the ceiling using your core muscles. Repeat this several times keeping the core engaged.
- Side Plank (Bonus Exercise)
Side plank will help you align your spine in a different way focusing on the sides of your abdominal muscles while also improving strength in your arms and wrists. To practice side plank, first get into plank pose and then step your feet together and roll your body so that you are facing outward. Press your weight down through one hand and forearm and stack your feet. Finally, extend your other arm upward and hold your body here with your core engaged for several seconds.
After regularly practicing just a few of these exercises for lower back pain, you’ll be amazed at the improvements in your range of motion, the way your back feels and your ability to conquer every day tasks with ease.