For the most part, if you are experiencing low back pain, let’s let pain be your guide. Does running hurt, but swimming feels okay? Then go swim! Just because your back lights up when you deadlift doesn’t mean you can’t bench press if it feels okay. In short, stay as active as your pain allows. One of the worst things you can do is just sit back and opt for complete rest. Pain is a complex topic and is very multi-faceted; it is more than just what biological tissues are damaged, but also how you interpret and feel about the event and the pain, as well as how others interact with you (the bio-psycho-social model of pain, which I will cover more at a later time).
Why do rehab exercises for low back pain?
Today, we are focusing on some movements to help reduce the sensation of pain and promote blood flow and healing while restoring movement patterns. You can think of these exercises as “rehab exercises,” but you don’t have to be experiencing a low back pain episode to get benefit from them.
Movement helps to stimulate blood flow. Blood brings good things in and helps take bad things out of an injured area. We can promote growth of muscle fibers, stimulate repair of tendons, and maybe even ligament repair through exercise therapy. As a bonus, when we move we can get a release of endorphins that can help reduce the perception of pain in that area.
Often times, the sensation of pain can change how we move. We’ve all experienced this too. Have you ever twisted your ankle and walked with a limp for a few days? A similar thing can happen in the low back. When we strain a muscle, tendon, or ligament in the low back, often times our brain thinks “HOLY CRAP! PROTECT!” and will tell certain muscles in the area to become tighter and others to relax more. This change in resting muscle tone can influence how we move and load the tissues and joints not only in the low back, but throughout most of the body! We will want to restore movement and movement patterns as quickly as we can.
Seriously, if you are experiencing a low back episode, consult a qualified chiropractor, medical doctor, or physical therapist. These exercises outlined below are generally safe when performed correctly and at the right time during a pain episode. However, if performed incorrectly or with too much weight, they can potentially make things worse. Listen to your body and don’t force anything.
4 of My Favorite Exercises for Low Back Pain
Click the links below to see videos for each of these movements!
1. Side laying thread the needle
This is my all-time favorite stretch! Long-time followers of this blog will probably recognize this one since I’ve posted about it several times and have given this stretch as homework for about 80% of my patients. Find something stable to hook your foot around and only go as low as your mobility and pain levels allow. This should be a gentle stretch that hits both hips as well as your back.
2. Bird Dog
This is part of McGill’s “Big 3” meaning there’s a good amount of evidence behind this movement. The idea is to learn how to brace the spine and core while still allowing your arms and/or legs to move. Try to minimize hip shift and spinal movement as much as possible. It doesn’t matter how far you can reach; it matters more how little your hips and spine move a lot more. This low-level exercise looks easy but looks can be deceiving!
3. Side plank with Clam Shell
Most people know how to do the regular side plank. This progression makes it a little harder by adding some balance and instability to the mix. Keep your core tight and move with purpose. Feel free to add a band around your knees to make this a bit more challenging!
4. Kettlebell Deadlift
Everyone wants a nice booty, and this is one great way to get one! Low back strains can be caused by lifting poorly. This exercise can help reinforce the hip hinge pattern. Start very light and work on the movement pattern of bracing the core and hinging at the hips before adding any weight to this exercise.
Back pain episodes happen to almost everyone at some point. Don’t worry though because most episodes are simple muscle strains. You are an amazing healing machine! With the right influences and guidance, most of us can overcome most injuries. Have fun and enjoy the journey!