The most common complaint we get from patients is low back pain. The degrees of discomfort vary from localised pain to pain with an added neurogenic component, shooting down into the leg and sometimes foot.
It is no secret that our day to day activities have an effect on our posture, and unfortunately the large amounts of time now spent sitting, add great amounts of pressure on the lower back.
Below you will find the top 3 exercises that will give the greatest amount of relief for low back pain, short term and long term. Ideally performed three times per day, these exercises provide the strength and support required to relieve those symptoms and help you maintain a pain free lifestyle.
Transverse abdominal exercises
Often referred to as “squeezing the core muscles” this exercise activates the deepest level of the abdominal muscles at the front of the body, whilst simultaneously contracting the core spinal stabilisers at the back.
To perform the exercise lie on your back with your knees bent up and resting on the floor. You will notice that your lower back arches slightly in this position. The object of the exercise is to make your lower back as flat as possible, ideally flattening enough to push into the floor. The trick here however is to hold the contraction for 10 seconds WHILST at the same time breathing. By holding your breath, more global abdominal muscles are activated and the effect on the transverse abdominus is diminished.
When you are comfortably able to hold the contraction for 10 seconds whilst breathing, increase the difficulty of the exercise by trying to slide one leg along the floor, thereby straightening it whilst still doing the exercise. Again once comfortably done, further progressions include performing the exercise in sitting, standing and whilst holding a conversation.
The great thing about the transverse exercise is that it can be done almost anywhere. When you the reach the stage where you can comfortably perform the exercise in sitting, then it can be done whilst driving, working at your desk, whilst in a meeting. It is the perfect anywhere, anytime exercise, and the benefits will be felt very quickly with frequent usage.
2. Hip flexor stretches
The hip flexors are a common source of tightness in people with low back, which is again related to long hours in a seated position. Tight hip flexors act by pulling the pelvis forwards, giving it an anterior tilt. This tilt causes added lordosis at the low back, further accentuating the problem area.
To perform the exercise place one foot in front of the other, bend both the front and back legs to 90 degrees, and rest the back knee on the floor. Slowly lean your body weight through the front leg whilst keeping the back knee fixated to the floor. You will feel a pull at the top of the back leg, which is the stretch of the hip flexor. Hold the position for 30 seconds to a minute and repeat with the opposite leg.
3. Piriformis stretches
The piriformis muscle is a small deep muscle in the gluteal region that acts as an external rotator of the hip. Its relation to low back pain is that the sciatic nerve travels below, and in a small percentage of the population, through this muscle. Once again postural related, prolonged hours in sitting can lead to this muscle becoming tight and affecting the region.
In order to perform this stretch, sit on a chair, preferably a dining or desk chair rather than the couch. Cross one leg over the other with the cross knee at 90 degrees. Allow this knee to fall parallel to the floor. From this position slowly lean your body forwards until you feel the stretch in your low back and buttocks. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute and repeat with the other leg.
Now you know the top 3 exercises to fight against and prevent low back pain. Performing these 3 times per day long term can ease the effects of low back pain, though this is just the beginners guide. Coupled with maintaining an active lifestyle and being wary of your posture these can be of great benefit. If your back pain continues to be an issue then consult with your doctor or physical therapist for further information.