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Lower Back Pain Exercises


QUESTION:

I've been having some lower back pain.  A trainer at the gym mentioned that I may need to train this area to strengthen it.  Is this true, and if so, what exercises should I do?

It's always important to check with your health care professional when you're experiencing specific pains.  Ruling out slipped discs and other common back ailments will help guide your treatment.  In addition, they can provide you with a program that specifically addresses your individual needs.  However, regardless of the cause, strengthening the area will most likely be recommended.  Strength imbalances or weaknesses in the lower back and core muscles can definitely result in postural imbalances and pain.

Stability exercises are a good way to train and strengthen the core muscles of the torso.  Strong core muscles will stabilize the spine and promote the natural curves of the spine, resulting in a strong base of support for other movements and activities.  Core muscles include the muscles of the abdominal, lumbar, thoracic, and cervical regions of the torso - basically, all the muscles in your torso region.

One of the most important keys when undergoing core strength training is to be actively and correctly engaging your core muscles.  This does not mean holding your breath!  You should be able to engage these muscles and still breathe and talk.  Envision pulling your navel back towards your spine and holding this position.  If this feeling is new to you, it definitely helps to have an exercise specialist coaching and guiding you into the correct positioning.

There are many different ways to train and achieve core fitness.  Yoga, Pilate's, floor and water exercises, utilizing weighted balls, stability balls, and pulley systems can all be designed to target and train core fitness.  Some common exercises include varieties of lower back extensions, bridges, crunches, twists, leg raises and core stabilizations.

In addition to strengthening, it's important to become aware of your posture throughout the day.  Ask your trainer or doctor to help you identify the proper posture.  There are natural curves in the spine that should be maintained for optimal functioning.  Problems can occur for instance when individuals slouch or hyperextend (thrusting shoulders back and protruding stomach forward).

Lastly, sleeping posture can impact back health.  Lower back pain can be caused by sleeping on your stomach.  The ideal position is on your side with knees slightly drawn up (similar to fetal position) with a small pillow in between knees.  This positions the spine in an optimal, relaxed and unstressed state.  If you must sleep on your back, place a small pillow under your knees to help maintain a neutral lumbar curve.  If you are a "stomach sleeper", make this small change and feel the difference in one night!

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Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology.  She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.

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