At some point in life, almost everyone suffers from lower back pain. In fact, it is one of the most commonly reported causes of missed work throughout the United States. Pain can be episodic, clearing up on its own over time, or it can be chronic.
Lumbar pain can be significant, interfering with daily activity and making it difficult to do things you once enjoyed. While a flare-up of lower back pain often makes patients want to avoid physical activity in favor of resting to minimize pain, taking to the sofa or bed may not be in your best interest.
Exercises and stretches, when performed correctly as part of a daily routine, can minimize or even alleviate some lower back pain.
How Exercises and Stretches Improve Lower Back Pain
Not so long ago, bed rest was prescribed to patients suffering from back pain. Today, researchers and healthcare providers know light-to-moderate exercise and appropriate stretches can have far more of a positive impact than remaining sedentary while muscles continue to weaken and tighten. If your pain is episodic and can be attributed to over-exertion, rest can be restorative as over-worked muscles and ligaments become less stiff, sore and tight. When pain is chronic, however, strengthening the back, stomach and leg muscles is imperative.
Increasing the strength of these muscle groups provides better spinal support, which can reduce stress on the lower back and hips and minimize or even alleviate lower back pain. Range of motion and overall mobility can be improved, contributing to a better quality of life and activity level.
Discovering the Underlying Cause of Chronic Lower Back Pain
Patients suffering from lower back pain on a regular basis should always consult their healthcare providers to determine the root cause of lower back pain. Some conditions affecting the lumbar spine are not improved by certain exercises, for instance, and may even be exacerbated by the wrong movements.
Disk degeneration, for example, can be the result of wear and tear on disks associated with age and activity, which can lead to spinal stenosis if not treated properly. This narrowing of the space surrounding the spinal cord can result in pressure on the cord and nerves throughout the spine, and it is important you choose exercises that are not likely to further contribute to disk damage or stenosis.
When lower back pain does not improve over time, working with your healthcare provider to determine the cause is not only important to prevent further injury; your diagnosis may also determine which exercises and stretches are best suited to your unique needs.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN AN EXERCISE REGIMEN FOR LOWER BACK PAIN
Working with your doctor to determine the root cause of your lumbar pain means you may also be referred to a physical therapist or given instruction on specific exercises tailored to your needs. Before you begin any exercise plan, it is important to be sure you are working efficiently, safely and effectively by following these tips:
- Wear non-binding, comfortable clothing that does not restrict movement.
- Choose an open, flat surface large enough to accommodate the free movement of your body.
- Stretch one side of your body at a time.
- Move slowly, being sure to avoid bouncing or other abrupt movements, which may contribute to muscle strain and additional soreness.
- Hold your stretches. Fifteen to thirty seconds of stretching can lengthen muscles and improve range of motion significantly.
- Muscles may require up to four repetitions of a stretch to reach maximum elongation. Be sure to repeat each stretch two to five times, or as directed by your healthcare provider.
To stretch the lower back, there are a few different tactics. To elongate the piriformis muscle, lie on your back with both heels on the floor and knees bent. Cross one leg over the other, allowing your ankle to come to rest on the opposite bent knee, then move the knee toward your chest until a stretching sensation is felt in the buttock.
Stretch the mid and lower back by lying on your back, then pulling both knees to your chest while also moving your head forward until you feel a comfortable stretching sensation in the middle and lower back.
Kneeling lunge stretches can also be effective in stretching the lower back. Begin on both knees, then move one leg forward until your foot is flat on the ground. Make sure you maintain evenly distributed weight throughout your hips, rather than supporting your entire body weight on one side. Place both of your hands at the top of your thigh, carefully and slowly moving forward until there's a stretching sensation in the other leg. Stretching the hip flexor muscles can improve posture and aid in lower back pain relief.
EXERCISE AND LOWER BACK PAIN
It's no secret that an active lifestyle is far healthier than a more sedentary approach. Low back pain can make it difficult to do some exercises, especially heavy lifting or high-impact routines, but it certainly does not spell the end of all exercise for most patients. Maintaining a low-impact routine is ideal for many, as weaker muscles in the back, core and abdomen provide far less assistance when it comes to spinal support. When your spine is forced to carry more than its share of weight, the additional pressure can accelerate spinal disk degeneration or injuries.
In most cases, cardio and core strengthening exercises are ideal for maintaining overall health and strong musculature to minimize back pain. The type of exercise right for you, however, is highly contingent upon the cause of your back pain. Working with your doctor to devise the best exercise plan for your body can improve your overall health and quality of life dramatically, in addition to relieving pain.