It’s a pandemic! And no, I’m talking about the viral kind. I’m referring to lower back pain (also known as lumbago. According to the World Health Organisation, between 60-70% of people in industrialised countries will experience lower back pain sometime in their life . Out of these people, 1 in 5 people will end up developing long-term pain and disability . As a physiotherapist, this is one of the biggest problems I see in the clinic. A little niggle slowly evolves into back pain before completely taking over someone’s life.
For some people, their pain will become so unbearable to the point where they rely on painkillers, use injections, or even resort to surgery. Unknowingly, these expensive treatments might actually be more harmful. Side-effects from drugs. Infections after operations. These are real-life consequences that should not be ignored. Instead of learning how to fix a sore back, this article will teach you exercises to prevent lower back pain.
“Prevention is better than cure.”
Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus
Despite being over 500 years old, this quote perfectly describes the way modern medicine is heading towards. Instead of treating the disease or injury when it becomes chronic, preventing it from occurring should be the first approach. The philosophy at Digital Physio has and will always prioritise being proactive rather than reactive. Our blogs and resources have been developed to prevent you from asking “why does my back hurt?”
Interestingly, I noticed that a lot of people with lower back pain had developed poor movement patterns. Some lacked strength and stability in certain areas. Whilst others were stiff and rigid. These were most likely changes that occurred over time due to repeated habits like sitting or compensating behaviours.
Although exercise alone will not prevent lower back pain, it can certainly improve the body’s movement patterns, strength and flexibility. All these physical traits are essential for back health. Other factors to consider when preventing pain include posture, work, lifestyle choices and even stress.
Those with low back pain or have recurrent issues should consider attending physiotherapy or/and liaising with their doctor. In the meantime, you can avoid this altogether by trying my favourite simple and effective prevention exercises. .
As the years pass, people are continually becoming more inactive. Instead of standing and moving around, more jobs require you to sit and stare into a computer monitor. The problem with sitting is that the glute (your bottom muscles) is almost completely switched off. Anatomically, the glute is the most engaged whilst standing.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “So what? Who cares about having a big butt anyways?” The glute is more just an asset for an attractive Youtube video thumbnail. It’s also considered a key core stabiliser and contributes to movement around the hip. Having solid and stable glutes reduces the stress around the spine and the surrounding muscles. Ultimately taking the strain away from the back and reducing the risk of back pain.
The bridge is an excellent exercise to help develop strong glutes. In fact, you can test for sleepy glutes simply by feeling where it is working. If you feel the tension in your back, your glutes probably need to be woken up. Try to push your body weight through the heels and squeeze the bottom on your way up.
Core stability. And no, I’m not talking about ripped six-pack abs plastered all over Youtube thumbnails. It also doesn’t involve struggling over endless crunches or sit-ups. Simply put, core stability is the ability of the core or torso to remain rigid and robust during movement. For example, when looking at the pound-for-pound best Olympic weightlifters, you can see that the core remains statuesque throughout the lift.
Yes, I know you’re probably not aiming to throw around hundreds of pounds. However, everything that we do during the day requires some degree of core stability. Exercise, walking or even going shopping. The muscles in the abdomen, back and hip regions work synergistically to keep your lumbar spine protected whilst moving.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to walk around like a tin man. But it’s reasonable to suggest that having a stable core or foundation encourages healthy movements. For example, a chair with 4 legs will be infinitely more supportive than one with 3 legs. This is obvious because it is just more stable!
When performed correctly, the bird dog exercise will teach your body to engage the core and back muscles. Having supportive muscles is crucial for reducing the stress and strain through the spine.
Much like the bird dog, the dead bug exercise is a simple way of working core stability. The main difference between the two is that 1) you’ll be in a more balanced position, and 2) the abdominal muscles will be working harder. For some people, this can be an easier way to start engaging the core muscles. But don’t slack off! Even whilst lying down, keep the abdomen tense and engaged throughout.
Another common observation with my patients is that those with back pain are very stiff. Whether you’re working or studying, you’ll find yourself locked in one position for long periods. Over time, our joints, muscles and other structures adapt to these positions and begin to tighten up. Similarly, a car’s engine will fail to ignite if it hasn’t been driven for a while. Although our body is very adaptable, it can sometimes work against us.
One movement I frequently see lacking in those with back pain is thoracic rotation. Most of our torso’s rotational movement comes from the spine connected to the ribcage. Whether we’re head checking whilst driving or searching for a friend, we need this movement every day. Even these simple movements can become painful when you’re stiff, as your body isn’t accustomed to ranges.
Threading the needle is a superb exercise for encouraging thoracic rotation. During this movement, you’ll be able to rotate the spine and stretch out the shoulders and neck simultaneously. Although, you want to focus on driving the action through the rib cage and middle of the back.
Personally, this is one of my favourite dynamic stretches for lower back pain prevention. Much like threading the needle exercise, the cat camel helps keep the spine mobile and flexible. Extending backwards and forwards is essential for everyday movements like reaching up or picking objects up from the floor. Regularly performing the cat camel keeps the back fluid through the whole spine. When performing the exercise, try to feel the backstretch from top to bottom.
Simply dedicate 5 minutes a day and try a couple of these exercises. Start out by choosing a few of these exercises for 15 repetitions for 2 sets. You don’t need to do them all at once, but you can try a set every couple of hours. As you can see, it doesn’t take much to keep healthy at all!
As a daily routine, we’ve been accustomed to brushing teeth twice a day to prevent cavities. Naturally, it would only make sense to spare a few moments to take care of your back. We need our back for every waking moment of the day, so following a simple daily routine should be a no-brainer.
Keep in mind that everyone is unique and will have their own needs. Perhaps you need more mobility. Or maybe more core stability. There is no single movement or exercise that can definitively prevent lower back pain.
So what’s the takeaway? As with all aspects of health, you have the most influence on how our body will feel, look and move. The decisions that you make today set the trajectory for your future health. Spending a few minutes a day moving costs nothing but a bit of effort. On the flip side, it could save you the trip to the physiotherapist, doctor and even surgeon.
Looking to blast away your pain? Wanting to move better? Need to find ways to get lower back pain relief? Getting reliable information online can be overwhelming with the amount of conflicting information being published everyday. For evidence-based and reliable physiotherapy advice, click here to check out my blogs at Digital Physio.
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