Lately I have found myself working with quite a few clients that are experiencing lower back pain. For most of them, I would classify it as non-specific lower back pain since structurally there is nothing wrong, yet moderate pain and tightness exists. Actually, while doing a presentation for a corporate client, I came upon some pretty staggering statistics:
- Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the Global Burden of Disease 2010.
- Back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work. In fact, back pain is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections. (American Chiropractic Association)
- Most cases of back pain are mechanical or non-organic—meaning they are not caused by serious conditions, such as inflammatory arthritis, infection, fracture or cancer. (American Chiropractic Association)
- Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on back pain—and that’s just for the more easily identified costs. (American Chiropractic Association)
- Experts estimate that as many as 80% of the population will experience a back problem at some time in our lives. (American Chiropractic Association)
Quite a bit of this non-specific lower back pain can be attributed to the desk jockey lifestyle. These people sit all day, lose glute function, lose movement in their thoracic vertebrae, and lose range of motion on a multitude of muscles. This forces other muscles/joints to pick up the slack and work double duty.
Another cause of nagging back pain can be attributed to lifting. With exercises like squats and deadlifts being so prevalent, many lifters are not learning how to properly brace their core and instead arch their lower back to create stability. This causes the facet joints in the lower back to basically sit on top of each other. At low weights this general wouldn’t be terrible, but as the lifter continues to increase the load eventually this method cannot hold up and an injury ensues. This actually happened to me in the past, forcing me to relearn how to deadlift and squat properly.
This led me to put together a group of exercises designed to address the needs of both groups of the population. I call it the “lower back pain protocol” and the movements were chosen to target improved glute function and hip extension, teach neutral spine and spinal stability, and integrate the upper and lower body with the core/LPHC (lumbo-pelvic hip complex).
Perform This sequence twice a day for 2-3 weeks and before a workout. After the initial couple weeks you can scale down to one time a day or only prior to your workout.
1) Dead Bugs – Slowly bring down the opposite arm and leg while keeping the rib cage from flaring. It is important to keep the mid back pressed hard into the floor as the natural tendency will be to arch. If done properly, you will feel tension in the front of the abs. To increase the challenge as you progress, you can extend your legs at the knees and continue the movement with the legs straight.
2) Windshield Wipers – Lying on your back, bend your knees at 90 degrees. Slowly rotate at the hips while trying to keep your upper back flat on the floor. Move slowly and bring your legs back to the center and proceed to alternate sides. Once again, the challenge can be increased by straightening the legs.
3) Hip Bridges – Lying on your back, bring your feet towards your butt about hip-width apart. Bring your hands over your chest to minimize possible arm assistance. Press your feet hard into the floor and squeeze your glutes. You are trying to create a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Pause for 1-2 sec at the top and come down slowly.
4) PPT Plank – This is a more active version of the standard plank. The key here is to really focus on squeezing the glutes hard and you will feel your pelvis “tuck under” a bit. While in position, think of squeezing the legs together and core as well. Bonus points if you can do all that and engage your lats by drawing your elbows back towards your knees.
5) Quadruped Extension – This is the cousin to the dead bug exercise. Setup on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders and knees lined up under your hips. Slowly extend your opposite arm and knee while trying to resist rotational movement at your shoulders and hips. Alternate.