The risk of experiencing some degree of back pain increases as people age. A lack of physical exercise, loss of strength, and years of poor posture can take their toll on the body. Weakened core muscles, in particular, place more stress on the spine which may lead to nerve compression, bulging discs, and pain. Chronic back pain can impair day to day function and decrease quality of life.
Exercises that strengthen the core muscles may provide some relief from back pain. The core muscles include front abdominal muscles, the transverse abdominal muscle that wraps around the front of the body, the side muscles or obliques, and muscles in the back that run along the spine and between the spinal bones. Strengthening these muscle groups can help add stability to the back as well as helping to improve balance.
People who are suffering from back pain that has not improved following several weeks of self-care should consult their physician before beginning a new exercise program. Many factors can contribute to a patient’s back pain, so the doctor will want to do a thorough evaluation. This may include checking for range of motion, flexibility, strength, and reflexes. Other diagnostic procedures may include x-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI. Depending on the diagnosis, physical therapy may be prescribed. Some types of exercise may not be appropriate due to a patient’s limitations.
Here are some core strengthening exercises that may be recommended as part of a patient’s physical therapy regimen. They are easy for the patient to continue to do at home. They do not require any special equipment, although some people may prefer using a floor mat for added comfort.
People that participate in a sport such as golf or tennis will find that strengthening their core muscles helps to prevent painful back injuries. Some of these exercises are easily incorporated into a warm up routine to gently stretch the muscles before play begins.
Knees to chest
Lie on the back with both legs stretched out straight. Bring one knee up to the chest and press the small of the back toward the floor. Hold for 5 seconds, then repeat with the other knee. Repeat the sequence 10 times.
Back extension stretch
Lie on the stomach. Using the arms, push upper body off the floor and hold position for 5 seconds. Then lower and relax the body. Repeat 10 times.
Kneel on all fours. Then stretch one arm out in front. Tighten the abdominal muscles and extend the opposite leg out behind. Repeat with the other arm and leg.
Lower back rotational stretch
Lie on back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Keeping both shoulders on the floor, roll both bent knees over to one side. Hold for 5 seconds. Return to original position, then roll knees to the opposite side.
A similar stretch can be done from a seated position. Sit up tall and square the hips. Position hands behind the head and twist to the right. Hold position for 10 seconds, then repeat on the left side.
It is important to discontinue any exercise that causes pain to the body. Do not overstretch or try to force anything, as that can cause more damage.