Exercises and Movements to Relieve Lower Back Pain

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Do you suffer with recurrent chronic back pain or have flare ups after participating in high intensity activity? If so this article might offer some solutions for you.

Disclaimer: The following thoughts are personal observations from my time as a college athlete and current strength and conditioning coach to 400+ student-athletes. If you suspect you have any bone, joint or ligament problems consult with a physician and/or physical therapist prior to engaging in structured physical activity.

Poor Hip Internal Rotation

90/90 stretch

Lack of internal rotation at the hip joint seems to lead to chronic back pain. This article does a great job at explaining the specifics and why the pain may occur. I like to use the 90/90 hip rotation exercise to see if an athlete has limitations with hip internal rotation. This is a dynamic based movement but can also be performed as a static stretch. You should be able to comfortably hold the position and have your glute touch the ground. If you notice a gap to the floor where your glute is not touching you are lacking adequate range of motion.

Tight Hamstrings

The active straight leg test is a movement within a strength and conditioning certification called the Functional Movement Screen or FMS. This certification often gets bashed in the strength and conditioning world, but I do find the active straight leg test valuable.

final position for the active straight leg raise test

To perform this movement, you should lay flat on your back with your legs extended and heels touching. Curl your toes towards to your body and slowly [take 3-5seconds] raise a single leg while keeping your opposite leg extended and on the ground. The goal for this position to finish in a position where your leg is at 90 degrees to the floor or perfectly straight. See above for a visual.

Weak Core

Image result for plank

Having a weak lower back or abdominal area can lead to back pain as well as several other compensations. Many individuals are afraid to directly train or strengthen their lower back for fear of injury. The irony here is that direct lower back strength work can alleviate chronic lower back pain. John Meadows, a prominent bodybuilding coach says that male athletes should be able to perform 12 45lb/20kg weighted back extensions. If they cannot- there is room for improvement. Another “test” for core strength is a regular plank. Can you hold a single plank for 60 seconds? If you are shaking like a leaf or cannot complete the exercise for 60 seconds then the chances are high that your back pain could be attributed to a weak core.

How to improve hip internal rotation

Check out this video I made for Instagram that shows several progressions to improve hip internal rotation.

This hip internal rotation stretch is also another good option. Like the video mentions- you should not be in pain when performing this stretch.

How to improve hamstring flexibility

I like this active movement pattern as I find it has better carryover than the traditional touch your toes type stretches.

Active leg raise

This second variation of the active straight leg exercise is also a good option:

I had a personal training client in the past who had some good success with relieving lower back pain by performing partner assisted PNF stretching for the hamstrings. To learn more about PNF stretching click HERE.

Loaded stretching of the hamstrings is also a good method to improve long term hamstring flexibility- for this think of classic lower body movements such as RDL’s.

Barbell RDL

How to improve core strength

Of the three methods in this article to reduce or eliminate lower back pain this one is usually the easiest to accomplish as individuals “feel” the exercises work and because of this- they are more willing to complete them long-term.

While most people think of the core as just abs it can also include all the muscles at the hip joint which includes the glute muscle group. See the previous post about Glute Isometric Protocols to get some new ideas about how to train this area. My good friend and previous guest on The Training Ground Podcast, Will Geosits also provides a number of ideas on how to correctly perform core training. You can listen to that episode HERE.

I hope some of the suggestions in this post help. Stay patient with this process and do not expect it to be an overnight success. If you still have pain at the same intensity or perhaps even higher I highly recommend that you seek the assistance of a physician for a full diagnosis and treatment program.