With the extremely high prevalence of lower back pain across the world, finding ways to alleviate and prevent back pain has never been more important. If you are looking for exercise to improve your lower back mobility, you are in the right place.
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Millions of Americans every year suffer from chronic lower back pain (1) but this isn’t just a North American problem, lower back pain is the second leading cause of disability world wide (2). This has both a personal and economic cost, for millions of people they have reduced quality of life from chronic pain and it is estimated to cost over $55 billion a year from absenteeism (3).
The reasons for lower back pain are multifaceted often making it very difficult to both diagnosis and treat. The pain can be from a physical issue including but not limited too muscles, fascial structures, bones, joints, nerve roots and intervertebral discs.
The diagnosis of lower back pain would be difficult enough even if it was just an anatomical issue due to the complex anatomy of the lower back. Adding even more difficulty to diagnosis is the fact that psychological factors such as anxiety depression and stress can all be a cause.
It is important to differentiate between chronic lower back pain and muscle spasms, chronic lower back pain is when pain endures for more than a three month period. Whereas other issues in the lower back like muscle spasm or just a general feeling of tightness or limited range of motion are much less serious but still warrant visiting your physiotherapist before starting an intervention.
Often times the most difficult and the most important thing to do is to find the root cause of your chronic lower back pain. This is not an easy diagnosis for many physicians due to the ineffectiveness of imagery of physiological problems to predict pain. Many of us have a-symptomatic herniated disks, so we cannot be sure that pain comes from herniated disks, however it certainly can come from them. Psychological factors can often be the hardest diagnosis as they are very likely to go under the radar when physical pain is the issue, we want to find a physical problem as this seems to make more intuitive sense.
Lacking in mobility of the spine has been shown to be associated with lower back pain (4). This by no means it is the cause of lower back pain but I think we can assume that having a mobile and healthy spine will be beneficial to those who are both attempting to mitigate or recover from lower back pain.
A study showed that there is no relationship between levels of flexibility and improvements in lower back pain after a three month training intervention (5). This means that the flexibility and mobility style of movement training are not a silver bullet to solving lower back pain, as stated above you need to find the root cause of your pain and solve this issue alongside your health care professionals.
Are performing lower back mobility exercises worthwhile if the research indicates they will not help your lower back pain? I still think there is a therapeutic benefit to performing these circuits in the sense that they create short term release from tension, which when built into a regular schedule can be very beneficial while you attempt to illuminate the cause of the lower back pain.
The core musculature, especially the muscles of the deep trunk are a key part of alleviate lower back pain with strength training. (6) Although general strength training will be an excellent intervention for back pain prevention, the alleviation of pain is much more effective from core training than traditional strength training.
Therefore strengthening the lower back and the core muscles around it, alongside guidelines and advice from your physiotherapist who will be able to help provide you with the appropriate exercises based on your specific injury (those with severe pain or herniated disks will not be doing strength training). Have a look at some exercises with kettlebells we have provided specifically for helping prevent lower back pain .
If any intervention you’re attempting to carry out is causing any pain you really need to consider if this is the correct intervention for you. At no point should strength training or the mobility movements in this article cause pain.
Walking has been shown to be an effective intervention to people with chronic lower back pain, maybe consider adding a morning or post-eating walk into your day as well as strength training and mobilisation, its likely it will do you good (7).
Finally, people with a sedentary lifestyle have a high risk of chronic lower back pain, so you may want to consider designing a life where you move a lot, in all sorts of patterns and rhythms. This could be walking, dancing, running, climbing, strength training, rowing and on and on. There are so many ways we can move our body, attempt to seek out the ones you’re find inherently enjoyable and build them as regular practices.
Adding these movements into your daily routine in a way that suits your personal timetable will be the most effective way to build a consistent movement practice. Linking this behaviour with another that you already perform will make it easy to remember when you are supposed to be performing this intervention.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.