Part three of a four-part series on getting rid of back pain for good
When dealing with back pain, it is easy to focus on the symptom without addressing a foundational cause. The truth is, one of the most influential factors in all injury but most especially in back pain is core strength. The core supports and stabilizes the spine, which becomes even more crucial as we age. If the larger muscle groups that are meant to be doing the hard work aren’t firing the way they should be, the job ends up getting dumped on connective tissue which is already weakening with age. We want our spine to be supported with strong, healthy core muscles for optimum function and minimal pain. These simple exercises will go a long way in improving stability, range of motion, and reducing lower back pain.
This exercise works the upper abdominals and the rectus-abdominis which are the superficial core muscles that get the most attention in core work. You’ve likely worked these before, but this time try to move mindfully rather than relying on momentum to do the work for you. Start by lying on your back with your feet flat on the floor. Engage your core muscles as you slowly lift your head and shoulders off the floor a few inches. The goal is not height here, but focusing on slow movement with effort in the core. If you feel gripping in your neck or shoulders, you have come up too high. Stay for a breath, and then roll down slowly and mindfully, keeping the core engaged until your head touches the ground. Repeat 5 times.
Extended Table Top
With this exercise, we are focusing on stabilization and keeping the core engaged through movement. This exercise begins on all fours in a position called table top. You may like to put a towel under your knees for extra support. You’ll begin with a deep engagement in your core, and slowly extend your right leg out behind you and slightly off the ground. When that feels stable, add the challenge of extending your left arm forward at the same time. Stay for 2 rounds of breath before returning to table top. Then you’ll move on to the other side, doing 3 reps on each side.
If this gets to be a lot on your wrists, take a break and stretch your wrists between each side. If you have yoga blocks, you can also use the block to bring the ground higher and rest your supporting forearm on the block for support rather than relying on your hands and wrists.
Leg lifts are a great way to engage your lower core, an area of the core that often gets less attention. Start lying on your back with your left leg bent and foot flat on the floor with your right leg extended out on the ground. Focus on keeping your lower back flat on the ground while you lift your right leg a few inches off the ground. Hold for a round of breath before slowly lowering your leg to the ground, being sure not to release your core or let your lower back lift from the ground until your leg touches the floor. Repeat five times before going on to the other side.
Once you’ve been practicing this exercise for awhile and have gotten some lower abdominal strength going, you can add to the challenge by turning this exercise into a leg lowering exercise. Starting on your back, with both legs up at ninety degrees and a slight bend in the knees. Slowly lower your right leg while keeping your lower back pressed down to the floor. At first, this may just be a lowering forty five degrees while you are focusing on keeping your hip flexors relaxed, core engaged and lower back on the floor. Slowly lift your leg back to meet the left leg before you switch sides. You can work your way up to lowering your leg a couple inches off the ground as long as your lower back doesn’t lift as you lower.
Seated Side Bends
Seated side bends focus on the obliques, which can be essential in helping with the stabilization of the spine. Start seated with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. Find your core muscles engaged before you begin movement. Place your left hand behind your head while you lean to the right side, reaching your right arm down toward the floor. It doesn’t matter how far you go, you just want to be sure to focus on the left side body as you slowly contract your body back up to a seating position. Switch your arms and try on the other side. Repeat 3-5 times each side. Be sure to move with intention rather than allowing momentum to drive this exercise for maximum benefit.
While any of these exercises are great on their own, they each target a different part of the core and so work best when integrated together into a well-rounded workout routine. It is important to view core strength as the foundation of safe movement and it should be a non-negotiable in any workout regimen. The goal of this hard work is for your core strength to integrate into daily functional movement, which will be an essential part of preventing and reversing back pain and other injury.