Most people will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. In fact, lower back pain is one of the most common chronic pain conditions in older adults. There are many possible causes of lower back pain, like disc degeneration or arthritis, so see your family physician and/or a physiotherapist if you think you might have these conditions.
Unfortunately, some lower back stretches can contribute to the problem instead of fixing it. One common culprit is the bend-over touch-your-toes move, which puts the lumbar spine under excessive stress. Instead, focus on strengthening your lower back muscles with the moves described below. The exercises below are only intended for muscle-related lower back pain.
1. Bird Dog
This exercise is a fantastic core and back strengthener that also makes an effective warm-up move before lifting weights or playing sports.
Start on all fours, with knees under your hips and hands under your shoulders. (Some of my clients find this position uncomfortable on their knees if they’re on a hard surface, so feel free to use a yoga mat or gym mat.) Brace your abdominal muscles.
In a controlled motion, lift your right arm and left leg off of the floor, straightening both so they’re in line with your torso (parallel to the ground). Ensure your lower back doesn’t arch, and there’s no excessive motion in your hips. Return to the start position and switch sides. Aim for 10 slow repetitions on each side.
2. Pelvic Tilt
This deceptively simple exercise combats some of the hip-tightening effects of prolonged sitting, and is both a strength and stretch move. You’ll feel the muscles in your lower back, but you’ll also activate your core muscles, including the glutes.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Exhale and contract your abdominal muscles, pushing your lower back into the floor. Your hips and pelvis should feel like they’re rocking back. Hold for about 5 seconds, then relax (your lower back will come off the floor slightly). Repeat for 10 repetitions.
3. Side Plank
This exercise targets several different core muscles: your quadratus lumborum (the sides of your lower back), obliques, and lateral parts of the glute muscle. It helps to maintain healthy, strong hips — important for preventing low back pain and falls in older age.
Lie on the floor on your right side. Prop yourself up with your right forearm on the ground. Stack your left foot onto your right, and ensure your right elbow is directly under your right shoulder. Lift up your body so only your right forearm and right foot are touching the ground. Keep your core engaged and your entire body in a straight line. Hold this position for up to 30 seconds. Once you can hold the side plank for 30 seconds on each side, try holding the position with your top leg lifted.
If you have lower back pain, it can be a symptom of dysfunction elsewhere in the body, including hips, hamstrings, and even feet. See a physiotherapist to determine what might be causing your pain. Also, if you spend a lot of time sitting (even if you’re regularly physically active), make sure you get up at least every hour. All the better if you can incorporate the above exercises into your breaks.