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The 4 Best Exercises for Low Back Pain

Updated: Oct 23, 2022

At the time of this writing, the CDC reports that 25% of Americans suffer from low back pain. This low back pain falls into three categories: acute back pain (lasting less than 4 weeks), subacute back pain (lasting 4 to 12 weeks), and chronic back pain (lasting more than 12 weeks). The causes of back pain are numerous and range from poor posture, to muscular imbalances, to back injuries. The impact of suffering from back pain ranges from being a mere inconvenience to severely impacting an individual’s quality of life.

This article presents you with four exercises that can be done daily (or multiple times a day) to relieve low back pain and increase low back flexibility. When performing any of the following movements, it is important to stay in tune with your body. Notice how your body is feeling as you progress through the movements. Feeling some tension and stretch is normal, but feeling pain is a sign that that particular movement is not for you. Please note, if you have previously been diagnosed with any back disorder or injury, it is important to consult with your doctor or physical therapist before performing any of these exercises. As well, if you are experiencing ongoing or debilitating pain in your lower back, seeking the assistance of a doctor or physical therapist is recommended.

Cat-cow: The Cat-Cow is an excellent exercise for your low back because it moves the low back through both flexion and extension without placing the back under high load or tension. To set up for this movement, get yourself into a tabletop position making sure that your wrists, elbows, and shoulders form a straight vertical line and your hips are directly above your knees. From there, exhale as you round your back (the “cat” in the cat-cow movement). While rounding, focus on tucking your chin to your chest, pulling your bellybutton in, and tucking your pelvis. Your eyes should be gazing towards your knees. Next, take a slow, deep inhale as you arch your back (the “cow” in the cat-cow movement). During this arching segment, your eyes should gaze at the floor a few feet in front of your fingertips as you allow your midsection to relax and you lift your tailbone upwards. Repeat this exercise for 10-20 repetitions, making sure to synchronize your breath with the movement.

Press-ups: Press-ups help to increase the range of motion in the lower back by gradually increasing back extension. This movement alone often helps relieve minor low back pain that is caused by poor sitting or standing posture, especially if you tend to sit with a rounded back. To perform the press-up, start by laying on your stomach on a firm surface. I recommend using the ground with a yoga mat or carpeted floor. If getting down onto the ground is difficult for you, a firm or extra firm bed will work as well. From there, place your hands directly below your shoulders with your palms on the ground. Exhale as you press with your hands to lift your chest off the floor. Your pelvis should remain in contact with the floor the entire time. Gently press up until you feel your body naturally stop the movement. Hold for 1-2 seconds before exhaling and lowering your body to the starting position. Repeat this exercise for 10-20 repetitions, making sure to synchronize your breath with the movement.

Laying knee huggers: Whereas the press-ups help with range of motion in the direction of back extension, laying knee huggers help to increase range of motion in the direction of back flexion. To start this movement, lay on your back on a firm, flat surface. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Exhale as you lift your knee to where you can grab hold of it with your hands. Take hold of your right knee by either grabbing the knee itself or hooking your hands behind your thigh. Gently pull your knee towards your chest and hold for 1-2 seconds. Slowly inhale as you lower your leg back down to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite leg. Perform a total of 10-20 knee huggers on each leg, making sure to synchronize your breath with the movement. Note: After you become comfortable with performing single-leg knee huggers, you can progress to bringing in both knees at the same time.

Windshield Wipers: The final movement for relieving low back pain is the windshield wiper exercise. This exercise aids in low back rotation. To perform the windshield wipers, start by laying on your back with your arms out to your sides, your knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Your feet and knees should be gently touching. From there, slowly lower your knees to one side as you exhale. Allow your knees to lower to the point that you feel a slight stretch, but not pain. For some individuals, this may look like lowering your knees to a 45-degree angle. For others, they will be able to lower their knees all the way to the floor. There is no right or wrong here and, with practice, you should see an increased range of motion and flexibility with this movement. Once you reach your lowest position, slowly return your knees to the starting position as you inhale. Repeat this movement on the opposite side. Perform 10-20 repetitions, making sure to synchronize your breath with the movement.

For the best results, perform these exercises 1-3 times daily. Each of these movements have been selected to provide you with both immediate and long-term low back pain relief. If at any point any movement makes your back feel worse, you should discontinue doing that movement.

To watch a video demonstration of each of these moves, click on the video below.

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