Relieving Low Back Pain: Part 3 - Strengthening the Spine
So far in Relieving Low Back Pain Part 1 and Part 2 we've covered how out-of-alignment hips and tight muscles can contribute to low back pain. In this post, I show you how to strengthen your "core" muscles so that they can help your spine stay tall and carry the weight of your body. When most people thing of their "core" muscles, they think of the six pack abs that are formed by the rectus abdominis muscle. While this muscle looks great when toned, it actually doesn't do all that much to stabalize your spine. Instead, muscles like the transverse abdominis (the corset muscle), multifidi, and the obliques are much more involved. Muscles around your entire torso (front, back and sides) work together to create spinal stability. If some are working much more than others, it can create tension, compression and/or pain in the low back. Below are some stregthening poses for the entire torso that will help to decrease compressive forces and bring balance to the area and help alleviate low back pain. As always, if you are dealing with an injury or condition, be sure to get clearance from a doctor or PT before performing any of these exercises.
Cow pose (top) and cat pose (bottom) are great poses to warm up the spine and begin working the muscles both in the back and front of the body that support and move the spine. Make sure you press your hands firmly into the ground, pressing the ground away from you for both poses.
This pose works the upper back muscles. To get the greatest benefit, line the elbows under the shoulders and press the forearms strongly down into the ground. Think about lifting your chest up towards the ceiling to get more lift.
Locust pose really starts to work the back muscles, especially if held for a longer time. You don't have to lift the legs but lifting them gives an added bonus of working the glute and hamstring muscles as well. While the pose is pictured with arms in front, you can play around with arm variations.
Twists are great for strengthening the trunk but are more effective if you focus on using your side muscles rather than your arms to force your way into the twist. Pictured is a moderate open twist (twisting away from my standing leg). Even though my arm is against my leg, it isn't forcing my twist deeper than my natural muscular limit.
This is one of my favorite poses for strengthening the side body and some of the muscles deep to the spine in the back. You can hold this position or pulse down and back up an inch or two, repeating 2 or 3 sets of 10. If you choses to dip down, I recommend inhaling down and exhaling as you come up.
Like most crunches, this one tones the "ab" muscles. By keeping one leg long and the other flat on the ground, the hips can remain more neutral while you lift your upper body towards your feet, eliminating any discomfort in the low back. You can pulse up and down or stay in the crunched position while you breath.
This position works the "ab" muscles more than the single-leg crunch, but it can round the low back. If this pose doesn't cause your back discomfort it can be great for building strength. Keep your knees over your hips and try to keep your ankles in line with your knees while you reach your upper body forward.
This pose works the deep stabilizing muscles of the spine - the same muscles that help the body to balance. Start on hands and knees and then work on lifting one arm and then lower it down. Then lift one leg and lower it down. If you are ready for more challenge, lift one arm and the opposite leg at the same time. For more stability, reach forward through your fingers and back through your leg while keeping your belly lifted.
This pose builds on the sunbird pose, working the same muscles of the core. You can play with lifting one leg at a time (pictured), one arm at a time, or one leg and the opposite leg at the same time. These are challenging! Remember to reach forward through your arm and back through your leg as you keep your belly lifted. Think cat pose.