Did you know that lower back pain is quite common? According to a study conducted by the UNC School of Medicine, more than 80% of Americans will suffer an episode of low back pain in some time in their lives. However, there’s no need for alarm – lower back pain can be relieved and prevented by strengthening the core muscles.
Core muscles are the support system for your spine and lower back, and if the muscles are weak, your posture may be misaligned causing too much pressure to be placed on the lower back. If there is weakness in the core, hops, gluten and/or hamstrings, the body is thrown off balance and the lower back may be forced to pick up the slack.
Generally speaking, three types of lower back pain may be experienced, and may be temporary or ongoing. The first is a muscle spasm, which appears as pain that comes on suddenly. The muscles will feel ‘locked up’ so to speak, and it may be hard to move. Second is a shooting pain in the lower back and down one or both legs, indicating sciatica. There are no spasms associated with this type of pain, as a pinched nerve is normally to blame. Finally, a general aching across the entire lower back may be caused by arthritis, which is a form of inflammation, or weak muscles from a lack of activity.
One of the best low impact core strengthening exercises that can be practiced is the plank. There are many variations of the exercise, including a forearm plank, a plank done on the hands with the arms extended straight and a side plank variation. If you are new to the exercise, start with a :20 second hold and gradually increase by at least :5 seconds with each practice.
Back extensions are also an excellent way to target the core – specifically the lower back portion. The exercise may be completed on a back extension machine, but, if you’re like us, you prefer to work outside in the sunshine! We recommend lying on the ground on a mat or towel (or the grass, if you prefer) and reaching the arms and legs out as far as you can stretch. Slowly lift the arms and legs up and away from the body simultaneously and then lower back down. You’ll feel the entire back side activate to complete the exercise. These may also be referred to as the “superman” exercise.
Our third choice is the bridge, or hip raises. Lie on your back on the floor with knees bend and feet flat on the floor. Engaging the glutes and hamstrings, raise the hips up toward the sky, pausing for a few seconds before lowering back down. If you have tight hip flexors, this is an excellent stretch to practice.
And as always, keep moving! Getting a workout in at least a few times per week will help you easily increase your core strength and ease any lower back pain you may experience. Sign up for one of our classes and join the fun!