Here is the simple truth about what works (and doesn’t!) when it comes to relieving lower back pain. There’s tons of advice and dozens of back pain relief programs, but they all boil down to a few tried-and-true exercises. So this site shows you all the exercises so you can find what works for you.
This is not meant to be medical advice, just a sharing of my decades of personal experience successfully managing my own back problem.
I’ve explored everything out there. You who have a back problem know the sobering truth that most back problems are incurable! The best we can do is manage them and avoid or at least keep to a minimum surgery, medication, re-injury and limitations on our activity.
The good news is that you can have a serious back problem and live virtually pain-free! I’m one.
I’ve succeeded for nearly 40 years to avoid surgery and pain medication with 5 minutes of exercise I do nearly every morning. These exercises relieve nearly all of my morning pain and stiffness.
I’m not selling anything here and never will – just sharing what works and hoping to save you time – and back ache! – searching for relief.
And this brings up another important truth about back problems. What works for one person doesn’t always work for the next person. So what I’ve done here is show you the exercises that work for me plus 3 other of the most reputable collections of exercises just for back pain. Together these programs contain all the lower back exercises proven to work for nearly everyone suffering back problems. In other words, some variation of these are what a physical therapist will prescribe.
But again it’s not medical advice. Please get your back problem looked at by a health care professional before trying any of these exercises. It’s so important because sometimes a back problem is a symptom of some other issue entirely! So get yours checked out now!
I accept guest posts – feel free to submit anything helpful about your back problem experience.
Four out of five of us experience back pain sometime during the course of our lives. This is a great wake-up call to start an exercise routine if you haven’t already, because exercise not only relieves most back pain but also is the single most effective way to reduce the risk of a back problem occuring in the first place or recurring if you already have a back problem.
When is back pain amenable to exercise and when does it need more? Exercise is best for pain due to strain or spasm, and even spine related back problems such as sciatica which is pain that radiates from the back and extends down a leg often accompanied by ‘pins and needs’ sensation. For these most common forms of back pain, exercise has been proven to be the best medicine.
Less common back pain needs immediate medical attention such as back pain with any of these symptoms: fever, pain that worsens with exercise, numbness in the groin, loss of bowel or bladder control, leg weakness, and inability to sleep.
When back pain starts neither bed rest nor hard exercise is recommended. Instead try to maintain normal activities but without lifting. In 2 weeks when most back pain subsides, start gentle exercises that strengthen and stretch the lower back as well as the abdominals – most people don’t realize that weak abs are a major cause of back problems. Gentle Pilates or yoga is perfect although no study has yet identified any particular exercise that’s best. Studies do show that exercisers have less back problems than those who do not exercise.
Here are the 3 most commonly prescribed exercises by doctors and physical therapists to relieve low back pain:
Lie on your back and gently pull one knee as close to your chest as is comfortable and hold for 5-10 seconds. Alternate sides 5-10 times.
Now do it with both knees.
Now touch your lower back to the floor and hold it for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
Remember to consult your doctor before trying any exercises for back pain, because sometimes back pain has nothing to do with your back!
This is an excellent recent article I just found that finally clarifies how much water we REALLY need each day! You’ll be surprised! And it’s all research-based. The bottom line? Just drink when your body tells you your thirsty! But this brief article is just so interesting that I’ve reproduced it here. For the complete article go to Katie’s outstanding health and fitness blog: www.theactivetimes.com.
“We’ve all heard the advice, “drink at least 8 glasses of water a day” to stay hydrated and healthy. In fact, you’ve probably heard it as many times as you’ve been told to look both ways before your cross the street or brush your teeth before bed.
However, according to Andy Blow, co-founder and Sports Scientist at Precision Hydration and a Red Bull High Performance partner, this rule that everyone and their mother loves to tout is probably not the best guide for achieving optimal hydration.
“It’s a bit like the ‘how long is a piece of string’ question. It depends a lot on your size, activity level, sweat rate and so on. The range of potential fluid requirements amongst people is huge,” says Blow.
In other words, everyone’s fluid requirements are different and the amount of water you should drink on a daily basis depends on a range of individual factors. But if this is true, then how can you figure out an appropriate amount to drink?
“I think what it is best to say is that if you largely drink according to the dictates of thirst, and try to make sure the vast majority of your fluid intake comes from water you won’t be very far wrong,” says Blow.
He also recommends adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet because of their high liquid contents.
“If you can include a lot of these into your regular diet you will be doing your hydration levels a favor, as well as your general health,” he says.
When it comes to athletes and avid exercisers, Blow says that even though most are primarily concerned with avoiding dehydration, over-hydration is actually a much more common problem.
“This can be especially problematic if athletes drink excessive amounts of low sodium fluids over several hours, usually immediately before and during an event, and end up diluting the levels of sodium in their blood,” says Blow “If it goes unchecked, this can result in hyponatremia, a potentially deadly condition where the brain swells due to having to absorb excess fluid from the blood.”
The best way to avoid over-hydrating is simply to drink to thirst. If you’re getting ready for a big event or an intense training session you can increase your fluid intake slightly.
“In the final 48 hours before events and big training sessions we advise a lot of athletes to increase their fluid intake by an extra 500-750ml or so on top of their normal intake with some extra sodium in it to help the body absorb more of this additional fluid without diluting the blood,” says Blow.”
Finally some clarity!!! Oh and if you must take that bottle of water to your workout, fill a used one or buy a container so we can all begin to stop buying plastic bottled water – these plastic bottles are now the most prevalent plastic containers in the world!
Here’s something interesting which I’ve just started to try. Juicing fresh fruits and vegetables (with herbs and spices) to relieve joint and back pain.
Turns out nutritional science has found compounds in certain fresh fruits and veggies that actually reduce joint and muscle pain. For instance, a couple recent studies just reported that when runners drank 2 10-oz glasses of tart cherry juice per day for 1 week before a race, they reported 67% less pain following exercise than runners who did not drink the cherry juice.
The benefits of drinking fresh juice and smoothies doesn’t stop with pain relief! I’m shocked at all the benefits of juices and smoothies – nutrients you can’t get in even the best supplements, disease prevention and even treatment, getting all your daily servings of fresh fruits and veggies in one glass, and much more! So join me in trying this out and let me know if it brings you any relief.
Fresh juice from organic fruits and vegetables won’t reverse the aging process, but will delay the effects of some of the worst degenerative diseases, and help promote longevity – the next best thing to the fountain of youth!
In one glass, you’re consuming essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, enzymes and herbs – every ingredient researchers say is necessary to slow the aging process and promote a vibrant life.
Fruits and vegetables also contain marvelous compounds known as antioxidants which neutralize free radicals in your system. They are responsible for not only a host of degenerative diseases and weight gain, but also the process of aging.
As you age, your body isn’t as efficient at processing the nutrients you eat. Dietary supplements are helpful, but many essential nutrients are found in fresh food.
You absorb even more nutrients in liquid form than if you just ate the produce.
Here are the major anti-aging nutrients and the fruits and vegetables with the highest concentrations of these ingredients. I end this article with several of my favorite anti-aging juice recipes.
Vitamin C – reduces your risk of developing cardiovascular disease by raising HDL or good cholesterol, and reducing bad cholesterol or LDL. Some researchers are convinced that vitamin C reduces the incidence of Parkinson’s disease. Studies also confirm that it plays a powerful role in preventing cataracts, lowering blood pressure, and preventing many types of cancer.
Carotenoids – include carotenes found in yellow and orange vegetables, and zanthophylls found in green leafy vegetables. They strengthen your immune system, and play a key role in the prevention of heart disease, stroke, and even some types of cancer. Also certain vision problems can be avoided through the consumption of this marvelous nutrient, including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Alpha Lipoic Acid – plays a key role in metabolism, converting the food into energy.
Choline – the star of the B family of vitamins when it comes to anti-aging by preventing premature mental aging.
Vitamin K – prevents bone-related disorders such as osteoporosis. Research shows that it’s now an important factor in preventing the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Selenium – protects your body from problems in the immune system and plays a role in preventing certain cancers.
Ginkgo Biloba – stimulates blood circulation to the brain and extremities, and plays a key role in preventing nerve damage from toxic chemicals.
Fruits and Vegetables to Relieve Back & Joint Pain
Every fruit and vegetable contains important nutrients, but the following contain the highest concentration of anti-aging, joint pain, and back stiffness nutrients.
Apples - an apple a day keeps the doctor away and old age! Apples support your immune system, reduce your risk of various cancers, and delay the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Blueberries - reverses age-related brain decline and restores your body’s antioxidant level.
Broccoli – a vegetable superstar which lowers your risk of specific cancers, helps your heart, and protects you from damage caused by diabetes.
Butternut Squash – delays the appearance of wrinkles while helping to boost your heart health.
Green Cabbage - keeps a host of degenerative diseases at bay and helps to lower your risk of developing high blood pressure.
Pineapple - contains a substance called bromelain, an enzyme that helps to reduce the effects of arthritis, decrease asthma, and improve digestion.
Strawberries – lowers bad cholesterol (LDL) and helps delay the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and various types of cancer.
Sweet Potato – reduces your risk of developing certain cancers and stroke.
Tomatoes – contains lycopene which may help to lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and certain cancers including esophageal, stomach, colorectal, lung, and pancreatic cancer.
Watermelon - helps reduce your risk of developing certain cancers.
My favorite Anti-Aging and pain-Relieving Juice Recipes
Here are a few of the juicing recipes I’m currently exploring. Use these as a starting point for your own recipes.
Forever Young Juice
1 pint blackberries
1 pint raspberries
½ lemon, peeled
¼ inch slice ginger root
4 carrots, peel only 50% (most nutrients are in the peel!)
Here’s the short routine I do most mornings to relieve my lower back stiffness and pain. It’s been working great for me for many years.
You probably have a similar experience – some mornings my back is better that other mornings. So I vary my routine slightly – if I’m feeling great I do a bit more. But whether I feel good or bad, I don’t overdo it, just a few exercises that take about 5 minutes! That’s to make my back feel better, not for exercise.
Exercise is a whole other important part of managing my back – see my previous post “Preventing Back Problems from Getting Worse.” Full-body exercise is a must for keeping my back from getting worse as well as for overall health. So if you don’t exercise regularly, time to start, if you don’t want pain to rule your life!
Hard to believe 8 of 10 people have a back problem at some point in their lives. Most of these back problems will be life-long. Like mine. But it doesn’t have to be debilitating. My back problem is always there, but it doesn’t define me or limit my activities, at least not after I do my little morning back-rehab exercise routine. Same exercises a physical therapist once suggested for me – I did see a professional about my back years ago, several, in fact. One doctor suggested surgery. Another suggested these exercises and if they didn’t help come see her again to talk surgery. That was the first tiome i ever heard of Pilates. that was nearly 40 years ago. Now, i teach it!
Here’s what I do and I do it all gently like a warm-up – let the ‘dynamic stretch’ do its magic! And remember, before you even experiment with these or any other exercises, get your back problem looked at by a professional. That’s the first step, because though most back pain is just that, it can at times be a sign of “…heart attack, aortic aneurysm, abdominal and pelvic inflammation, cancer and many other diseases,” says Dr. William O. Witt. “It is therefore critical that back pain not be ignored and that you tell your doctor.”
If physical therapy is prescribed breathe a sigh of relief because you are about to be introduced to exercises first developed by Joseph Pilates nearly 100 years ago! And after your back problem has subsided I highly recommend learning the entire Pilates routine. There are many fine online programs with free beginners lessons such as at PilatesLessons.org. Anyway, here is my routine:
3-5 Leg Circles – I do these slowly and gently with my leg as straight as i can get it, but it doesn’t have to be straight. You can bend it as much as you want.
3-5 Single and Double Leg Stretches – these are just so effective. I can feel the stretch right where my back needs it most. I go very slow with these.
3-5 The Saw – again I go real slow and it’s not very comfortable but when it’s over my back feels so much better!
And on those days when my back feels really good I add:
3-5 Rolling – can’t do this every morning – sometimes when it feels like this will strain my back I just skip it.
The 100 is a Pilates classic which I do in the easy beginner version.
And finally I add 3-5 Roll Ups which is the Pilates sit up. I do the beginners version as I teach in the video below. Again, I don’t do this every morning, just when my back feels good enough to. Sometimes, not always. On the days can do it, it feels great!
So let me know how these lower back exercises work for you.
A back problem is not just about relieving pain. It’s also about preventing it from getting worse. For that we need the very thing that’s likely to have prevented it in the first place – physical fitness. Most back problems can be traced back to a lack of physical fitness, a lack of a regular workout routine that includes 3 essential exercises.
According to the latest fitness gurus, we all need to engage in physical activity at least 1 hour a day. And not just any activity. According to fitness and health experts we need 3 distinct kinds of exercise – cardiovascular conditioning, strength building exercises and stretching. Each of these gives us important benefits that we can’t get from the other. Furthermore, each of these three should NOT be done every day!
That may sound complicated so lets look at each one briefly. It’s important to know the right way to workout if you want all the benefits without wasting time and effort. And before we get any further along in this discussion, remember to talk to your health care professional before starting any physical activity, especially if you’re a beginner to exercise or have any medical issues.
Cardiovascular conditioning is popularly known as aerobics or cardio. It is any activity which elevated your heart rate to a particular level for at least 10 minutes at a time. 20-30 minutes a day is better. The CDC recommends at least 2.5 hours spread out over a week of moderate aerobics such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes a week of moderate to intense aerobics such as jogging and running. Recent research shows that even more benefits may be gained by doing one longer period of aerobics per week or increasing the intensity of your aerobic activity once a week. This last technique known as high intensity interval training or HIIT has become very popular because a couple proven benefits are not achieved by any other activity such as more calories burned in less time, and the stimulation of an important chemical in our bodies linked to longevity known as human growth hormone. Other important benefits of cardio are:
To reduce stress, improve sleep, boost brain function and elevate your mood
The important point to remember about cardio is that if you want its benefits you must elevate your heart rate to a very specific level. This is known as your ‘Target Heart Rate’ and it’s different for each person. There are formulas and devices that calculate this for you. For instance, for men, the formula is 216-93% of your age multiplied by 50-69% for moderate exercise and 70-90% for intense exercise. For women it’s 200-67% of your age multiplied by the same moderate and intense percentages. So as a 61 year old male my target heart rate is 80 – 110 beats per minute for moderate exercise and 111 – 143 beats per minute for intense exercise. Since I’m in excellent health and I workout regularly I shoot for the 111-143 level.
If you use a cardio machine at your local gym such as a stepper, elliptical, bike, etc. – target heart rate is automatically calculated for you. There’s an easy way to find your Target Heart Rate known as the ‘Talk Test.” Quite simply, if your can talk in a complete sentence you’re cardio is not intense enough. If you can just say one word it’s perfect! If you can’t talk at all you may be working too hard.
It is important to begin cardio activities slowly and gradually increase the intensity. Now let’s look at the 2nd of the 3 essential exercises.
Strength Building Exercise
This may be the most important exercise of the 3, especially as the body ages. The truth is that starting at about age 30 men and women begin to lose muscle naturally all over the body creating a greater risk of falls which among the elderly are now the leading cause of death. Cardio and stretching exercise does not restore muscle.
Muscle is crucial for balance and stability. Muscle strength increases athletic performance and makes everyday activities easier such as carrying groceries and climbing stairs. Other benefits are:
To restore lost muscle mass
To manage weight – muscle burns more calories than fat even while you sleep!
To protects your bone health
To prevent a variety of diseases
To boost your energy and improve your mood
An important point about any strength building exercise is that it’s not healthy to do it every day. Muscle needs to actually break down to get stronger. The process of muscle repair needs about a day. This doesn’t mean skip exercise for a day! Just skip strength building exercises for a day. You can do aerobics and stretching without interrupting the muscle recovery process.
Flexibility is achieved with stretching exercises. This too is not something you can achieve with cardio or strength training. It is the stretching of muscle tissue so that your body moves easier and more comfortably. It also prevents injury. There are different kinds of stretching basically boiled down to 3 types:
Dynamic stretch – stretching while you move
Static stretch – stretching without movement
Balistic stretch – stretching by harsh bouncing which is universally discouraged due to the increased risk of injury
Interestingly, some exercise methods combine some and even all of these exercises. For instance, the popular women-only workout known as Curves combines aerobics and strength training very effectively adding a stretching period after each session. Swimming combines aerobics and stretching. Pilates is particularly unique – the mat Pilates program is a full-body workout with core exercises that combine cardio, strength training and stretching in one quick 30-minute workout without any equipment or a gym – a great home workout. Here’s why Pilates is special:
Make sure your exercise routine includes the essential exercises – stretching, strength training and cardiovascular conditioning. And be sure to check out one of the few exercise methods that combines all three with core exercises with incredible benefits: Pilates.