Top 3 Exercises for Low Back Pain
Are you tired of living with constant lower back pain?
You’re not the only person out there who is bothered by low back pain ‒ in fact, low back pain is the most common musculoskeletal condition affecting the adult population, with a prevalence of up to 84%.
While some may view low back pain as a reality in high-volume weightlifting sports ‒ this may not be true. From a psychological standpoint, low back pain has a series of characteristics that break it into different categories. This means if you can identify your specific pain characteristics, you may also be able to correct this dysfunction to grow stronger and pain-free.
Here at Lu Strength & Therapy, that’s what we’re all about. Lift, move, and perform pain-free! Before we get into how you can bulletproof your back it’s best we give you some context ‒ knowledge is power, let’s get into it.
Types of Low Back Pain
There are three main types of low back pain ‒ each with specific characteristics that help health care practitioners and other sports therapists identify certain types of pain to create recovery programs.
Type #1: Musculature
Dozens of different muscles connect to the lumbar region (low back) and hip. The spine can perform flexion, extension, and rotation. Restrictions in the muscles that allow these movements can be categorized as musculoskeletal or musculature pain.
In many cases, these injuries are a result of poor movement patterns. Bad lifting mechanics, poor posture, lack of bracing, and overuse (stress-induced injuries).
Awkward movements and repeated heavy lifting (with bad form) can cause muscle or ligament strains that create low back pain and weakness in the spine.
Type 2: Joint Restriction
Restricted mobility is one of the most common reasons many lifters do not hit their athletic potential. In particular, the facet joint and the sacroiliac joint are high-volume injuries that occur in the average population and lifters.
Facet Joint Pain
The facet joint is on the posterior portion of your spine and allows for flexion and extension. Some estimates show that up to 30% of low back pain cases are related to facet joint issues. If you experience pain with hyperextension, rotation, lateral bending, and walking uphill, it is possible you have facet joint dysfunctions.
Sacroiliac Joint (SI Joint)
SI Joint is a little more complex than Facet Joint. With innervations across the low back and hip, SI joint issues can be characterized by ligament tension, compression, hypermobility, altered joint mechanics, and myofascial or kinetic chain dysfunction causing inflammation.
If you’ve been in a gym with keen massage therapists, you know that myofascial release (muscle tissue release) is very important for the prevention of injury and improving athletic performance.
Type 3: Nerve
The last common type of lumbar pain is nerve pain. Very often, this type of pain presents itself as radiating pain through the legs ‒ especially through the glutes and hamstrings. Nerve pain is often called “radicular” pain and is often associated with disc herniation and general inflammation.
Causes of Low Back Pain
Now that we understand the basic types of low back pain we can better start to identify the primary causes for this pain. Let’s take a look at the main causes of low back pain.
Athletes who overtrain a specific muscular system, those with poor form, and those who may have bad lifestyle patterns may have muscular imbalances.
A simple example of this would be someone who has a much higher pushup volume than pullup volume.
There is something to be said about the kinetic balance between muscles. Many modern lifters emphasize anterior muscles (chest, anterior deltoids, core) and lack posterior muscle (latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, rhomboids) strength and stability.
In fact, appropriate and calculated workout programming is perhaps one of the most effective ways to ensure you will not have muscular imbalances.
Injuries or Trauma
This one might seem like a no-brainer ‒ you deadlift way too heavy and tweaked your back. This is an acute injury and the causes are pretty clear. Unfortunately, not all injuries are acute.
Some lumbar injuries occur over time, slowly breaking form ‒ leading to imbalances, pain, and discomfort.
Injuries and trauma are major causes of low back pain and should be treated through preventative measures. Stretching and strengthening is a good start, but those athletes looking to hit real PR’s should consult a health care practitioner (preferably with a strength background) for more guidance.
Poor Movement Patterns
The last cause for low back pain is a broad characterization of poor movement patterns. It’s that guy you see at the gym rounding his back over the bar, or rounding his shoulders during a pullup.
Poor movement patterns are everywhere, and once your body develops a pattern it is difficult to retrain it. Poor movement patterns can lead to weakness, overcompensation, bad posture, stress injuries and more.
Remember, FORM = FUNCTION
Without adequate form, your lifts will never be as high as they could be. Take care to lock in on efficient movement patterns.
Risk Factors for Low Back Pain
There are specific factors that contribute directly to low back pain. Understanding what risk factors contribute to back pain can help you to create programming that ensures a pain-free and powerful lifestyle.
Weakness & Posture
What do we mean by weakness? In some cases ‒ a lack of core strength, hip mobility and posture can lead to weakness in all other areas of your life.
Sometimes it can be effective to view your body as a model of tensegrity. Think of the chassis of a car. If one axel starts to rust and becomes damaged, the entire car may not run effectively.
In the same way, your body is supported by muscle, ligament and bones. Weakness or poor posture can lead to structural problems (degradation) and cause pain.
Lack of Programming
Programming is the secret key to training that everyone needs, but few people utilize. You have a financial planner to ensure you’re set for retirement ‒ but you don’t have a workout programmer to ensure you will hit your PR?
A lack of programming can lead to low back pain due to overtraining, unbalanced muscle strength, and poor mobility.
This comes down to priorities. Ensuring your programming is perfect is as simple as finding something that aligns with your goals and trusting the process.
Tell me if this sounds familiar… you wake up from sleep, coffee, sit down in your car to drive to work, sit down in your office chair (or home office), stand up to get lunch ‒ and sit back down to eat.
Okay, 5 hours went by ‒ how often were you actually moving? 10%, if you’re lucky?
A sedentary lifestyle is one of the primary reasons why people have low back pain. No matter how much lumbar support your chair has, sitting for 6+ hours a day will be detrimental to your spine health.
This might seem like a strange one ‒ but smoking is one of the primary causes of low back pain.
Since smoking negatively affects your blood flow by altering the size of blood vessels. This means smoking could result in less blood flow to the spine resulting in fewer nutrients, oxygen and fuel to heal the area.
Blood flow isn’t just about getting a pump, blood brings nutrients, oxygen, and fuel to working muscle.
Benefits of Correcting Low Back Pain
Correcting low back pain isn’t just about getting rid of the pain. Here are our top benefits to correcting low back pain.
✓ Strengthen Weak Muscles
Improve muscle balance in the body, aid in faster recovery, improve athletic performance and prevent injuries by strengthening weak muscles and correcting muscular imbalances.
✓ Improve Overall Stability
Boost PRs, improve bracing and core strength, prevent injuries, and coordinate your kinetic chain movements by improving your overall stability.
✓ Mobilize Joints
Rid your body of facet joint and SI joint pain, improve overall hip mobility for deeper ‒ more balanced squat mechanics, improve rotational strength and stability and prevent injuries by mobilizing your joints.
✓ Use Efficient Movement Patterns
Efficient movement patterns mean better volume during a workout, higher quality repetitions during high RPE sets, better bracing, less pain, and better posture.
Low Back Pain Exercises
The Deadbug exercise is one of the stable exercises when it comes to lower back pain.
Lay on the ground face up with the legs bent to roughly 90 degrees. Push the lower back into the ground and lift the tail bone off the ground half an inch. Slowly lower one heel to the ground while maintaining constant tension in the core. Alternate legs and avoid arching the lower back.
Aim for 12 – 15 repetitions for 2 – 3 sets of the Deadbug exercise.
The Bird Dog is another great exercise for low back pain and helps build overall core stability.
Start on all fours with your hands underneath your shoulders and knees underneath the hips. Place a foam roller or water bottle on the lower back and prevent it from falling off during the exercise. Extend one arm along with the opposite leg while maintaining balance. Lower the limbs back to the ground and repeat.
Aim for 12 – 15 repetitions for 2 – 3 sets of the Bird Dog exercise.
The Side Plank Clam Shell is one of my favorite exercises to help build overall core and hip stability which is much needed when it comes to dealing with low back pain.
Start on your side with a hip band around the knees and the elbow / forearm underneath the shoulder. Lift the hips off the ground with your hand on your hip for stability. While keeping the feet together, lift the top knee towards the ceiling without twisting from the hips (keep the shoulders and hips squared with one another).
Aim for 12 – 15 repetitions for 2 – 3 sets for the Side Plank Clam Shell exercise.
Bulletproof your Lower Back
Incorporating these three exercises for low back pain can dramatically help with one’s pain.
However, it is important to follow a structured workout with proper progressions to help strengthen and mobilize the correct areas of the body to prevent any flare ups and most importantly, promote longevity.
If you’re looking for a structured lower back rehab program, please consider our Bulletproof your Lower Back Rehab Program. It is a 12 week program designed to help strengthen your lower back and mobilize the joints that can lead to lower back dysfunctions.
Our Bulletproof your Lower Back Program is designed to help improve your overall strength and mobility to promote injury prevention and longevity. Follow a structured rehab program with easy to follow exercises and stretches!