If you have back pain, exercising can be tricky. In fact, back pain makes everything more difficult, whether it’s sleeping, sitting at a computer, or holding a wriggly toddler.
However, it’s still important to exercise even if you experience persistent back pain or are recovering from a back injury. Stopping moving is one of the worst things you can do if you have back discomfort. When you do, stiffness will follow, as will the excess weight that comes with a sedentary lifestyle.
The issue is there are some exercises that you definitely should avoid if you have back pain. They can even worsen an existing back issue.
Here we’ll check out some of the best 7 Core Exercises For Low Back Pain, along with some you should definitely avoid.
What Do Core Muscles Do And Why Are They Important?
First off, what is a core muscle? Core muscles are basically groups of muscles that can be found in the abdomen, lower back, and pelvis. When these muscles are working together they give you support, strength, stability, and better movement of the spine and pelvis.
Included in this muscle group are:
Multifidus: The muscle group that lies within the back, they are vital for the stability of the spine and its movement.
Rectus Abdominis: Best known as the “six-pack,” this runs down along the front of the abdomen and is used when flexing the trunk.
Transversus Abdominis: These can be found deep inside the abdomen. Like a personal corset, it wraps around the torso and keeps it tight and strong. This gives good posture and maintains stability.
Obliques: The internal and external obliques are located on the sides of the abdomen. They assist in rotating and bending the trunk.
Erector Spinae: These muscles run along the spine and help with back extension and maintaining an upright posture.
Pelvic Floor Muscles: The muscles at the base of the pelvis support the pelvic organs and aid in controlling bowel and bladder functions.
Diaphragm: Though primarily a respiratory muscle, the diaphragm also contributes to core stability by connecting to the deep abdominal muscles.
Worst Exercises For Lower Back Pain
We’re going to explore some of the best and worst exercises for lower back pain, starting with the worst. These are workouts to avoid with a bad back.
Leg Lifts and Toe Touches: Doing this exercise either laying down or standing up, toe touches will cause your back pain to flare up. Bending at the waist for this exercise will put a strain on the disks, ligaments, and muscles in your spine. You also run the risk of overstretching your back and hamstring muscles
Sit-ups: Most people use their hip flexors in this exercise instead of their abdominal muscles. Therefore, sit-ups won’t help strengthen your core. The additional stress to your back and neck if performed incorrectly puts you at risk for more pain or making an existing injury worse. The same goes for crunches. Unless the exercise can be performed properly, avoid it and your back will thank you.
Torso Twists: Any movement requiring twisting of the back is bad news for back pain. Biomechanics dictate that the spine isn’t meant to twist severely from one side to the other. Any twisting movement will easily upset any disks, muscles, ligaments, or tendons that are already inflamed.
Deadlift: Deadlifts are known for being a back-strengthening exercise, but it’s best to avoid them if you are experiencing back pain or injury. This exercise puts too much stress on the lower back and can easily exacerbate an injury.
Squat: Squats using machines or barbells are especially bad for your back if you’re already experiencing back pain. The pressure of machines or weight adds stress to compressed disks. Even when performing body weight squats, it is very easy to use bad form and let your back curve. Avoid squats to keep back pain from flaring up.
Best core exercises for a bad back
Now we’ve got the worst exercises for a bad back out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the exercises that can help strengthen your core and help your posture.
Lunges are an exercise you can’t do without. It helps you gain more control of your spine and muscles which are vital for daily activities like running, walking, and stair-climbing. Lunges not only target the spine, but also the calves, hamstrings, glutes, quads, and even the sides of your trunk.
- Contract your abs and place your hands on your hips. Using your right foot, take a huge step forward.
- Go lower so that your right knee is positioned at a ninety-degree angle, then go back to your initial position without a pause.
- Repetitions for each leg are ideally 8 to 12 before switching to the opposite leg.
If lunges are already part of your routine and you need a more challenging variation, take a step forward with your foot but this time do it diagonally (2 o’clock on the right, or 10 o’clock on the left).
The variation makes balance more difficult, thus developing your stability and strength. If this still isn’t giving you enough challenge, try doing lunges while holding a dumbbell to improve muscle resistance or keep your hands interlaced at the back of your head.
The Side Plank
This exercise is meant for your core – it aims to improve endurance and increase strength. It is ideal for strengthening and stabilizing your lower back and hips for activities like lifting or bending.
- Begin by lying on your right side, keeping your body straight and your middle finger pointed forward. Rest on your forearm for balance, keeping your elbow directly under the shoulder.
- Lift your hips slowly away from the floor while keeping your abs tightened and not changing the straight line. Your feet should be stacked on top of the other
- Your hips should be square and your neck must be following the straightness of your spine, then lift one arm to the ceiling (if you are a beginner your arm can remain at your side.
- Keep in this position for half a minute or shorter, depending on your endurance. If this move is new to you, start with 2 or 3 reps per side. Some find this very difficult – they usually begin with bent knees.
Swiss Ball Rollout
The Swiss ball rollout targets the entire core, including the rectus abdominis and deep stabilizing muscles, while also engaging the back muscles.
- Kneel in front of a Swiss ball with your hands resting on top of it.
- Slowly roll the ball forward, extending your arms and allowing your body to lean forward.
- Keep your core engaged and avoid overarching your lower back.
- Roll the ball back toward your knees to return to the starting position.
Glute bridges primarily target the glutes but also engage the core and lower back muscles. This exercise helps improve hip and core stability while reducing stress on the lower back.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor hip-width apart.
- Lift your hips off the ground until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Squeeze your glutes at the top and hold for a moment before lowering back down.
Standing Side Bends
Standing side bends engage the obliques and core muscles while promoting spinal flexibility.
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms relaxed at your sides.
- Slowly slide one hand down the side of your leg, bending sideways, while keeping your upper body facing forward.
- Return to the upright position and repeat on the other side. Standing side bends stretch the back muscles, strengthen the core, and improve lateral stability.
Standing marches are a simple yet effective exercise for core and lower back strength.
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Lift one knee as high as comfortable while maintaining a straight posture, and then lower it back down.
- Alternate legs and continue marching in place.
- Focus on engaging your core throughout the movement. Standing marches activate the core muscles, improve balance, and enhance overall stability.
Lying Windshield Wipers
This is another great lower back stretch for you to try out called the Lying Windshield Wipers. This move can really help to relieve tension and tightness in your lower back after a long day.
- First, lie down on your back and spread your arms out to the sides. Lift your legs up so your knees are bent at a 90 degree angle. Press your lower back into the floor and brace your core to hold this position.
- Then, keeping your legs together, slowly lower them to one side as far as you comfortably can without lifting your shoulders or lower back off the ground. Pause for a moment, then bring your legs back to the starting position.
- Repeat that lowering motion to the opposite side. That’s 1 rep. Aim for 8 reps total, 4 per side.
Make sure to go slow and controlled with the movement, and only go as far as feels good for your back. Don’t force the stretch.
When it comes to core exercises for back pain, focus on exercises that strengthen the deep core muscles while minimizing strain on the back. Key exercises include planks, lunges, and glute bridges. These exercises target the core muscles, improve stability, and support the spine.
Incorporating some of these 7 core exercises for low back pain, such as side planks, and Swiss ball rollouts can further enhance core strength and promote spinal stability.
Remember to start slowly, maintain proper form, and consult with a healthcare professional or qualified exercise specialist if you have any concerns or specific conditions. Building a strong core can help alleviate back pain and improve overall spinal health.