Here is the simple truth about what works (and doesn’t!) when it comes to relieving lower back pain. Not meant to be medical advice, just a sharing of my decades of personal experience successfully managing my own back problem.
I’ve explored just about 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. And though there are dozens of back pain relief programs, they all take from just a couple basic exercises that are known to work.
I’m not selling anything here and never will – just sharing what works and hoping to save you time searching for relief.
And this brings up another important truth about back problems.What works for one person may not work for you and vice versa. So what I’ve done here is show you the exercises that work for me and also 3 other programs – these 4 together contain all the lower back exercises proven to work for nearly everyone suffering back problems. Some variation of these are what physical therapists 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.
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: