Got lower back pain? You aren’t alone! When I was going through university (many years ago!) studies showed that about 80% of individuals would experience lower back pain at some point in their life. And it still holds true today. In fact, it’s one of the leading reasons individuals miss work.
But what exactly is lower back pain? What causes it? And how can you use core strength to prevent and fix it?
Essentially, lower back pain is pain from an injury or condition that occurs in the low back region. It can be muscular pain, meaning the pain is arising from an injured muscle, or neural pain, meaning a nerve is compressed or irritated causing discomfort.
Causes of Lower Back Pain
Typically lower back pain happens from not moving enough or from lifting something far too heavy.
Common causes of lower back pain include:
The muscles or tendons in the lower back region can become stretched or torn from certain activities, such as lifting a heavy object, twisting the wrong way, or lifting an object incorrectly.
The discs in the back are the shock-absorbers in the spine. They prevent your vertebrae from rubbing against each other. However, these discs can become injured or ruptured. When this happens, they may press on nerves, causing pain.
Sciatica may happen due to an injured disc or a spasming muscle. Sciatica refers to when the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in the human body, becomes compressed, leading to pain, numbness, and tingling through the low back, buttocks, and down the legs.
When degeneration of the discs in the spine occurs, spinal stenosis can also happen. This is where the spinal column narrows, which places pressure on the spinal cord and the nerves.
Abnormal Spinal Curvature
Many abnormal spinal curvatures are conditions that individuals are born with. Some examples include scoliosis, lordosis, and kyphosis. These curvatures can lead to poor posture and pain.
Arthritis can occur in the spine, leading to low back pain frequently caused by nerve compression.
How Can We Help Improve Lower Back Pain?
In many of these cases, improving core strength can help reduce and eliminate pain. The core is a group of muscles that make up the lower torso, including the abdominal muscles, low back muscles, and glutes.
When you strengthen these muscles, your lower back can handle more. It prevents other more passive structures, such as the connective tissues and bones, from taking the brute force and stress associated with certain movements. In turn, this leads to reduced pain.
When you have a strong core, other parts of your body compensate less. So, how can you build your core?
Core Yoga Exercises for Lower Back Pain
1. Spinal Balance flow
This targets the abdominal muscles, glutes, and the paraspinal muscles in the low back, a group of muscles that runs vertically down your spine. Not only does this movement help gain core strength, but it can also contribute to improved balance.
Begin on all fours on your hands and knees. Your hands should be directly below your shoulders with your arms straight. Your knees should be directly under your hips. You should create a tabletop position to start.
Extend your right arm straight forward and your left leg straight back at the same time. Or if this is too intense just start with moving your leg - knee towards nose.
Ensure you maintain a flat back, with engaged abdominal muscles. This means thinking about tightening across the front of the hips while keeping your back neutral.
Slowly return both your leg and arm to the tabletop position.
Alternate sides by extending your left arm and your right leg.
Continue to go back and forth for 6-10 repetitions.
2. The Glute Bridge
The glutes are part of the core muscle group. By doing glute bridges you are keeping these muscles strong, you help stabilise the pelvis, which also contributes to proper alignment in the lower back. This can help alleviate pain and prevent it.
Tip: Be careful not to overextend during this exercise. If you push your hips to high, you can over-extend your back, leading to further issues.
Find a comfortable spot to lay flat on your back. Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the ground. Your feet should be about hip-width apart.
Gently squeeze your glutes and tighten your abs. At the same time, lift your buttocks and hips off the ground.
Only lift high enough that you are squeezing your glutes.
Lift and lower the hips with your steady/smooth yogi breath. Alternatively hold at the top for 5-10 seconds.
Then, slowly lower your hips and buttocks back down to the ground.
Repeat 6-10 times.
3. Alternate Arm/Leg Extension (or Dead Bug!)
This exercise strengthens your transverse abdominis (the deepest of your 4 layers of abs), your rectus abdominis, and your hip flexors. This, again, can help support your low back, preventing compensation via other structures.
Lie face up on a comfortable surface.
Your arms should be extended toward the ceiling or sky. Your knees should be bent to 90 degrees with your feet off the ground and your shins parallel to the ground.
Carefully extend your left leg and lower your right arm down behind you as you inhale.
Exhale, return to the start position with your arms extended and knees bent to 90 degrees.
Alternate sides and perform 10 repetitions.
4. The Eight-Point Plank
This is a more back-friendly version of the plank exercise. And while you may think it sounds easier, your core will feel the burn. In turn, this creates support and stabilisation for your spine, alleviating pain.
Begin on your knees and forearms. Slowly walk your knees slightly back, so they aren’t directly under your hips, and move your forearms slightly forward, so they aren’t directly under your shoulders. Flex your feet and keep your toes planted on the ground. This is your starting position.
Squeeze your knees and elbows, as if you were going to bring them toward the center line of the body. But don’t actually move them.
Ensure you maintain a neutral spine and keep your abdominals engaged.
Hold here for 10-20 seconds. Gradually build up to 30 seconds. Aim to perform about 3-5 repetitions of this. Use your smooth and steady yoga breath.
5. Child’s Pose
The child’s pose stretch can offer some low back pain relief fairly quickly. If you’re in so much pain that doing core exercises right now just isn’t possible, try doing this stretch and the next one to reduce your pain. Both of these exercises help release tight or spasming muscles in the low back and posterior chain of the body.
Begin on all fours in a tabletop position. Your hands should be straight and directly under your shoulders. Your knees should be directly under your hips.
Gently bring your buttocks back toward your heels.
Only go as far as feels comfortable. If pain happens, ease off. Go to just before pain.
You should feel a gentle stretch in your back.
Hold here for 20-30 seconds or for as long as you like, using your your smotth and steady yoga breath.
6. Knee-to-Chest Stretch
Similar to the child’s pose stretch, the knee to chest stretch is another movement that can help reduce tightness, stiffness, and pain in the low back. In fact, yoga is an excellent exercise option for those experiencing low back pain. It’s gentle for pain-related conditions, and it focuses on being more aware of your posture and engaging your core.
Lay on your back on a comfortable surface.
Gently bring one knee toward your chest while one stays flat.
Hold your knee with both hands. You should feel a gentle stretch through your back.
Hold for 20-30 seconds or for as long as you like, using your your smotth and steady yoga breath.
Switch legs and repeat the process twice.
7. The Cat-Cow
Cat Cow is another yoga move that can help improve back mobility. It involves moving from extension into flexion and back again while following your breath.
Begin on all fours with a neutral back.
Slowly exhale, and arch your back up.
At the same time, bring your head in between your arms.
Slowly inhale, and arch your back down, bringing your belly toward the floor while keeping your arms straight.
At the same time, bring your chest forward.
Alternate back and forth for about 5-10 repetitions.
Say Goodbye to Back Pain!
Back pain doesn’t have to be your inevitable fate. It’s entirely possible to work with your body to eliminate pain and prevent it. Start with the 7 exercises above. Strengthen your core to provide support and stability to your spine; it needs it, especially if you work a desk job!
Movement is an important part of health and wellness. Your body works its best when exercise and movement are part of your regular routine. Find what works!
Thanks to Dailylife.com for much of this information, which I had added to with my own knowledge.