The Single Best Exercise For Preventing Low Back Pain
Back pain and limited time for exercise?
There’s no lack of resources dedicated to getting rid of low back pain through exercise. A simple Google search will provide you with an endless number of overly-complicated workout programs by Instagram-famous fitness experts with lofty promises. And if you’ve gone down the physiotherapy route you probably have a thick stack of exercise handouts that you did once and promptly forgot about once you realized the daily commitment they required.
So let’s be real: we’re all incredibly busy. It’s amazing we get exercise in at all, much less spend 30 minutes every day doing plank variations until we pass out.
The good news is that it’s not all-or-nothing: doing something is always better than nothing when it comes to exercise therapy. But you have to know which exercises to prioritize and which exercises can wait.
What Causes Back Pain?
There are a ton of structures in your low back that can cause pain. But whether the immediate pain is coming from a strained muscle, a swollen facet joint, or a hot disk, many (if not most) of the patients who come into our office with low back problems actually have a common root cause: pelvic instability.
Biomechanically, our bodies work as one cohesive unit; they’re not just a bunch of independent pieces connected together. When one region isn’t performing like it was designed to, the body will find a way to move using another muscle or joint in a less efficient manner.
This is especially true when it comes to our pelvis. The pelvis is the keystone of our entire skeleton – and if it’s not working correctly, everything above it is going to suffer.
The muscles that are primarily responsible for pelvic stabilization are the gluteus medius, gluteus maximus, pirformis and the deep core muscles. Improving these muscles is absolutely critical for pelvic stability – it is the top thing you can do at home to prevent (or reduce) low back pain. It’s also why they’re a staple in so many of the rehab exercise plans I give my patients at Ascent Chiropractic.
“Work on your glutes!”
If you’ve ever been told that your glutes are weak, please raise your hand. This is because:
- We sit… a LOT.
- We’re not activating them during movements they should be being used.
Modern culture and lifestyle means that we’re spending a lot of time sitting. Whether in the office, in traffic or at home, the average American spends 9.3 hours of every day sitting – even more than the average 7.7 hours we spend sleeping.
When we sit, we put our hips into a forward tilted position. This causes our hip flexors (the muscles at the front of the thigh and hips) and lower back muscles to become short and tightened. At the same time your glutes are placed into a lengthened position, which causes the muscles fibers to weaken over time as they’re pulled apart.
This muscle imbalance is called lower cross syndrome, and your body compensates by overusing the joints and muscles in your lower back, hips and knees.
The answer? Banded. Glute. Bridges.
There are plenty of exercises that hit your glutes – squats, split squats, clam shells, side planks, lunges, romanian deadlifts. But if you’ve only got time for one, the banded glute bridge should be it.
The glute bridge (with or without weight) is an excellent move by itself for activating your gluteus maximus and core muscles. But you can double its effectiveness and hit the rest of the glute muscles simply by adding a resistance band loop around your thighs and pushing your knees out to make it an unbeatable 2-in-1 exercise.
How to do a banded glute bridge:
1. Place a resistance band loop (also known as a booty band) around both thighs, so it rests just above your knees.
2. Start on your back with your knees raised and your heels shoulder-width apart, about a foot in front of your glutes. Leave your arms at your side.
3. Raise your hips in-line with your trunk and pretend you’re cracking an acorn between your glutes.
4. Tilt your pelvis so your tail bone is tucking between your legs into your belly button (weird visual, sorry). If you can’t isolate the glutes try pushing more through the heels. Doing some stretching or foam rolling on the hip flexors before bridges may make this easier.
5. Make an effort not to arch at the back. Once in position, lightly brace your trunk muscles. Don’t suck in and don’t push out. Pretend that Rocky is about to throw you a couple soft jabs to the stomach, sides and back muscles.
6. Hold the position for a few seconds then slowly release and return to a flat spine. Repeat for sets of 10.
7. Ensure that you can breathe in this position. Don’t be holding your breath and turning red!
8. Start with a light resistance band. Practice the technique and movements before switching to a stronger resistance band that offers more tension.
Finally, while there shouldn’t be any sharp, acute pain when performing this exercise, being uncomfortable is normal – you’re doing this for a reason, after all.
Disclaimer: This is not a substitute for medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional to get a medical diagnosis, rule out any serious complications and get advice on a treatment plan for your particular condition before beginning any self-treatment described here.
The Bottom Line
Strengthening your glutes and core can be hugely beneficial for helping reduce low back pain, but if you’re only doing muscle rehab without actually correcting joint dysfunction and positioning, you’ll be stuck with low-level chronic inflammation forever. That’s where we come in.
Struggling with back pain? Even if you’re already being treated by a primary care physician, it’s time to make an appointment. In a recent study published in SPINE, over 73% of people who saw a chiropractor in addition to their medical doctor found significant or complete relief from back pain, compared with 17% in the standard-medical-care-only group.
It’s a fact: what we do at Ascent Chiropractic can help you address the cause of the problem, not just mask the symptoms.
Looking for a Brookfield chiropractor? We’d love to help you get started with chiropractic care. Make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic in Brookfield by calling 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.