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The best exercises to help manage lower back pain?

Lower back pain is a hidden epidemic, thought to affect up to thirteen million people every year. For some of these sufferers, the chronic pain can lead to disability, as the reduced flexibility of the spine, issues with stability, and stiffness all prohibit natural, fluid movement. While maintaining strong muscular strength in the back and practising care when lifting heavy objects can go a long way to preventing lower back problems, what solutions are available for combatting this issue when it strikes? More and more people are turning to exercises to strengthen muscles affected by pain in lower back areas, recognising the benefits of gentle stretching and movement to encourage healing and promote long-term lower back health and strength.

Diagram of the human spine

Understanding the symptoms of lower back pain

Lower back pain becomes a problem when it recurs, creating stiffness and tenderness in the affected area, with pain sometimes spreading lower into the buttocks and legs. It can reduce mobility to the extent that sufferers can find it difficult to maintain a single position for any period of time, and walking can lead to a sensation of fatigue and weakness in the legs. Sitting may cause discomfort also, leaving people with the condition finding it difficult to identify any one position to gain relief from the persistent ache.

Pain in lower back muscles can occur for a broad range of reasons. However, for most people, it is not clear what causes the issue. A strain caused by lifting a heavy object, awkward twisting or bending, or injury can all lead to chronic problems. Similarly, a damaged spinal disk, compression fracture within the vertebra of the spine, or arthritis can all result in persistent lower back pain. In rare circumstances, the pain can be attributable to a more serious condition such as rheumatism, arthritis, or a tumor.

Diagram showing the top view of a vertebrae

Self-help measures for fixing lower back pain

In most instances, lower back pain will gradually improve naturally. Anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen, a firm mattress, and low-heeled shoes will all assist a speedier recovery. Sitting in a chair with strong back support may make it easier to find relief from pain in lower back areas. Many people find that hot and cold compresses and massage can also assist in managing pain, and promoting back health. Similarly, alternative therapies such as acupuncture may help with pain management and relaxation of affected muscle groups.

Infographic showing office based back pain problems

The most beneficial exercises for lower back pain

While you may feel like resting when your lower back pain flares up, it’s beneficial to move as much as possible to strengthen the muscles in your back, legs and stomach. Gain medical approval before embarking on an exercise programme, to ensure that you can undertake the regime safely. One of the most beneficial exercises for lower back pain is the ‘crunch’, whereby you lie with your knees bent, and feet on the floor. Crossing your arms across your chest area, you use your stomach muscles to raise your shoulders from the floor. Holding the position for a few seconds and then releasing it will encourage your back muscles to strengthen and gently stretch.

Another set of effective exercises for lower back pain

Stretches which work on the hamstring are also beneficial for individuals experiencing persistent pain in the lower back. Lying on your back, with one knee bent, you can use a yoga towel to loop around the foot, and then slowly stretch your knee straight, while pulling gently back on the towel. Done correctly, a hamstring stretch will create a gentle pulling sensation along the back area of the leg. Hold the stretch for thirty seconds, and then repeat.

Exercises for lower back pain are designed to strengthen the muscles in the spine and buttocks, without causing additional pain through overstretching. ‘Wall sits’ are particularly effective in achieving this, as the movement encourages use of muscles without any additional pressure. To do them, position yourself around ten inches from the wall, and then lean gently backwards until your back fits flush to the surface. Slide down slowly with bent knees, and then maintain the position for ten seconds, before easing yourself back to a standing position. Repetitions will strengthen your core muscle groups, without exacerbating pain, making it one of the most effective exercises for lower back pain management.

Pain in lower back areas can also be eased through back extensions, whereby the sufferer lies on their stomach, with hands placed under each shoulder. By pushing with the hands so that the shoulders are raised to an elevated position, and then holding the position for a few seconds, pain in lower back regions can be reduced through this stretching motion.

Using yoga to manage back pain

One of the most helpful yoga moves for lower back pain management is known as the ‘Bird Dog’. This involves getting onto your hands and knees, and tightening the muscles in the stomach region. Slowly lift one leg behind you, extending it as fully as possible, and then holding the position for as long as feels comfortable. Repeat the exercise with the other leg, and continue. By attempting to maintain the position for as long as possible each time, you’ll be strengthening muscles and encouraging your back to heal. The exercise is also extremely helpful in encouraging you to stabilise the back, even while arms and legs are in motion, which assists in enhancing stability in everyday movement.

Yoga, Tai Chi and Qigong are all recognised for their ability to support sufferers with lower back pain, as all of these types of exercise are low-impact, but they can work wonders when it comes to strengthening muscles and alleviating pain. The combined mind and body approach to pain management encourages people to focus upon posture and breathing, while the physical element of the routines support back health. All of these low-impact exercise routines enhance wellbeing and help to reduce pain and inflammation, while providing positive stretches and gentle movement to promote healing.

6 Yoga Poses to Relieve Lower Back Pain

When it comes to managing chronic lower back pain, movement is critical to prevent the area from seizing up, causing additional stiffness, inflammation and reduced mobility. Exercises such as gentle walking and swimming are also beneficial in maintaining fluidity in muscle groups, and encouraging the lower back to heal, following strain or injury. Swimming offers a low-impact solution, as the water bears the weight of the swimmer, enabling them to undertake exercises which would be more challenging on land. The gentle, repetitive movements elongate the muscles in the lower back area, flexing the legs and buttocks to maximise movement, without the associated pain of high-impact sports or exercise routines.

Suffering with chronic lower back pain can be highly debilitating, potentially having a wide-reaching impact upon mood, libido and day to day wellbeing. By implementing a gentle yet effective exercise routine, it’s possible to promote lower back health and encourage the healing process, while managing the pain more effectively. At all times, consult with your GP prior to undertaking a new exercise programme, to ensure that the planned activities will serve to heal, rather than exacerbate, the condition. Over time, positive exercises will encourage muscular strength and stability, improving mobility and reducing the debilitating symptoms of this condition.