Sperling Medical Group

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Got Lower Back Pain? Start Exercising

Lower back pain is estimated to affect 80% of adults at one time or another. Most of the time, if there has been no specific injury or trauma that caused it, it clears up within a few weeks. It may be due to sitting long hours in a poorly constructed work chair, the strain of lifting something improperly, poor posture, carrying stress and tension in your lower back, etc.

If the pain begins as a small twinge that comes and goes, most people will ignore it or push past it. If the twinge starts to “speak up” in terms of intensity, frequency or duration, the next line of self-prescribed defense will be an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pill and possibly the application of heat or cold. Often, that will be enough to calm the sensations down, and after a brief period it will become simply a memory.

On the other hand, severe back pain should never be ignored or self-treated, especially if it’s the result of years’ worth of accumulated bad back habits. These poor habits gradually put a burden on the back’s architecture: the stacked column of vertebrae (backbones) becomes less well aligned, the cartilage on the small facet joints wears thin, the spongy cushions (disks) between vertebrae are pushed out from their space…all of these can lead to big trouble. Even more pain occurs as movement intended to compensate for the pain unbalances the interplay of the back’s soft tissue (muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves).

But wait! There’s a way to protect the lower back that can prevent pain and even foster healing. It’s called exercise, and even though results are not immediate, most people who practice two simple exercises daily achieve begin to experience relief in less than a month.

Here are the two exercises that are universally recommended. Since they are both done using floor support, if they are done slowly and consciously they won’t increase the back problem.

  1. Pelvic tilt – Lie on a floor (a thin mat is recommended, but a folded blanket will work). Before you begin, slide your hand under your lower back where it curves slightly up off the floor. It is this part of the back that you will be working. Slide your hand out, and place both hands face down on the floor at your side. Bend your knees until your feet are flat on the floor, with legs, knees and feet about hip width apart. This is your resting pose. To test the pelvic tilt and familiarize yourself with the movement, press the curve of your back down toward the floor, which will naturally raise your buttocks slightly. Now return to resting pose. Now take a deep breath, and as you exhale press the curve of your back down into the floor. Do not press to the point of pain, only go as far as you can without discomfort. While continuing to breathe slowly, hold the pose for 5-10 seconds and be aware of tightening your lower abdominal muscles. Gently release back to resting pose, take 2-3 normal breaths, and repeat for a total of 10 times. During each subsequent week, try adding 5 more repetitions until you reach 25 times.
  2. Knee to chest – Start with the same resting pose as pelvic tilt. Keeping your left foot on the floor, tighten your abdominal muscles and press your lower back to the floor as you lift your right knee and bring it toward your chest. Remember to breathe! Hold for 5 seconds, return it to the floor being conscious of your abdominal muscles and lower back pressed to the floor. Now repeat with your left leg. Do this for 3 repetitions per leg. Return to resting pose, relax and breathe. Repeat the entire cycle if you feel up for it. If not, wait until week 2, and start adding repetitions as you feel able.

Note that both exercises ask you to put attention on your abdominal muscles as you exercise your lower back. This helps strengthen your core and the muscles on the front of your body. It may be surprising, but a stronger back is helped by the support of a stronger front.

Even after your back pain has gone away, continue these simple exercises. Whatever maximum number of repetitions you worked up to, try to maintain a practice of these strengthening resources at least 3 times per week. You and your back will be happier for many years to come.

Facet Pain