Lower Back Pain, Strength and Flexibility

03/28/2011 - Amy Eisenson

With most of us sitting a large portion of the day the supporting muscles of the spine have become weaker causing us to rely on secondary muscles to do the work. The muscle imbalance leads to discomfort and pain in the low back. Below are examples of strengthening exercise and stretches you can do to increase the strength and flexibility of the low back.

 

Strength Exercises

                    

Beginner Level

Birddog

 

Starting Position: Kneel on an exercise mat or floor, positioning your knees and feet hip-width apart, with your toes pointing towards your body). Slowly lean forward to place your hands on the mat, positioning them directly under your shoulders at shoulder-width with your fingers facing forward. Reposition your hands and knees as necessary so that your knees are directly under your hips and hands are directly under your shoulders.

Stiffen your core and abdominal muscles to position your spine in a neutral position, avoid any excessive sagging or arching.  Slowly extend your left hip (raise and straighten the knee) attempting to extend it until it is at, or near parallel, to the floor without any rotation in the hip. Your goal is to keep both hips parallel to the floor. 

Slowly flex your right arm (raise and straighten the arm) attempting to raise it until it is at, or near parallel, to the floor without any tilting at the shoulders. Your goal is to keep the both shoulders parallel to the floor. Your head should remain aligned with the spine throughout the movement.

Gently lower yourself back to your starting position and repeat with the opposite limbs.

 

Intermediate Level

Locust Pose

 

Starting Position: Lie on your belly with your arms along the sides of your torso, palms up, forehead resting on the floor. Turn your big toes toward each other to inwardly rotate your thighs, and firm your buttocks so your coccyx presses toward your pubis.

Exhale and lift your head, upper torso, arms, and legs away from the floor. You’ll be resting on your lower ribs, belly, and front pelvis. Firm your buttocks and reach strongly through your legs, first through the heels to lengthen the back legs, then through the bases of the big toes. Keep the big toes turned toward each other.

Raise your arms parallel to the floor and stretch back actively through your fingertips. Imagine there’s a weight pressing down on the backs of the upper arms, and push up toward the ceiling against this resistance. Press your scapulas firmly into your back.

Gaze forward or slightly upward, being careful not to jut your chin forward and crunch the back of your neck. Keep the base of the skull lifted and the back of the neck long.

Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then release with an exhalation. Take a few breaths and repeat 1 or 2 times more if you like.

 

Advanced Level

Prone Shoulder Stabilizer Series- I Y T W O series

 

Starting Position: Lie prone (on your stomach) on a mat, with your arms and legs fully extended.  Point your toes away from your body and fully extend your elbows and fingers, positioning your palms facing inwards.  Stiffen your abdominal muscles to stabilize your spine, depress and retract your scapulae (pull shoulders back and down) and attempt to hold these positions throughout the exercise. Align your head with your thoracic (upper) spine.

 

“I” Formation:Gently exhale and slowly lift your arms off the floor (maintain a formation of the letter “I”), with palms facing inward.  Keep your head aligned with your thoracic (upper) spine.  Focus on generating most of your lift through your shoulders and not the low back although some low back extension (arching) is acceptable.  Hold this position for 5 – 10 seconds then relax and return to your starting position.  Perform 2 – 4 repetitions.

 

“Y” Formation:From the same starting position, gently exhale and slowly lift your arms off the floor, moving your arms into the “Y” formation (45-degree angle to form the letter “Y”) as illustrated with palms facing inward.  Maintain your head alignment with your thoracic (upper) spine.  Focus on generating most of your lift through your shoulders and not the low back although some low back extension (arching) is acceptable.  Hold this position for 5 – 10 seconds then relax and return to your starting position.  Perform 2 – 4 repetitions.

 

“T” Formation:From the same starting position, gently exhale and slowly lift your arms off the floor, moving your arms into the “T” formation (90-degree angle to form the letter “T”) as illustrated with palms facing forward.  Maintain your head alignment with your thoracic (upper) spine.  Focus on generating most of your lift through your shoulders and not the low back although some low back extension (arching) is acceptable.  Hold this position for 5 – 10 seconds then relax and return to your starting position.  Perform 2 – 4 repetitions.

 

“W” Formation:From the same starting position, gently exhale and slowly lift your arms off the floor, flexing (bending) your elbows and dropping them to a 45-degree angle to the sides of your body as illustrated with palms facing inward (“W” formation to form the letter “W”).  Maintain your head alignment with your thoracic (upper) spine.  Focus on generating most of your lift through your shoulders and not the low back although some low back extension (arching) is acceptable.  Hold this position for 5 – 10 seconds then relax and return to your starting position.  Perform 2 – 4 repetitions.

 

“O” Formation:From a position with arms at your sides, gently exhale and elevate your shoulders while internally rotating both arms as if reaching behind to scratch your back.  Overlap your hands in the small of your back into an “O” formation (form the letter “O”).  Maintain your head alignment with your thoracic (upper) spine.  Focus on generating most of your lift through your shoulders and not the low back although some low back extension (arching) is acceptable.  Hold this position for 5 – 10 seconds then relax and return to your starting position.  Perform 2 – 4 repetitions.

 

To increase the challenge of this series, do all letter positions while engaging your back muscles in the lifted position. Start with I, moving to Y, to T to W to O, then rest and repeat.

 

Stretches

 

Sciatica stretch

 

Low back stretch

 

Low back stretch

 

 

 

 

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