Safety / Injuries
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Corrective Exercise for Low Back Pain
Low back pain is one of the most common injuries your clients may experience. It also happens to be a common job-related injury and a major cause of missed workdays. As a personal trainer, understanding how to use corrective exercise effectively is key to helping your clients who experience the frustrations of low back pain.
As always, remember to stay within the scope of practice of a personal trainer. There are various types of lower back pain, so be sure you understand when you can and can’t help a client, especially according to the regulations of your region. If an issue your client is experiencing is beyond your scope of practice, refer them to a medical professional—when in doubt, refer out.
Now, read on to learn more about some of the common causes of lower back pain and what you can do as a personal trainer to help your clients improve their fitness and lessen their pain.
Causes of Low Back Pain
To understand why your clients may be experiencing low back pain it is important to fully understand what can affect them. Typically, low back pain is experienced in the lumbar spine. With that, the lumbar spine and the thoracic spine work together, so if something is off in their thoracic spine it could be impacting your client’s lower back.
Another, and more likely, cause of back pain is tight hip flexors, glutes, piriformis, or any combination of those muscles. Most days, all day, your clients sit, putting their hip flexor muscles into a shortened position. This also can make the glutes work harder and become tight. All of this over time will put excess pressure on the low back.
Finally, assess your client’s posture. If they slouch forward with their shoulder rolling forward, likely from sitting at a computer all day, they could be putting extra tension on their low back. This again leads to tight hip flexors which causes the low back to work harder than necessary.
To combat some of these common causes of low back pain, consider adding a corrective exercise program to your client’s training plan. The follow corrective exercises for lower back pain are excellent options to include in your programming.
A great place to start is right from the top—foam rolling the thoracic spine. Especially for people who sit all day, work on computers, or are on a smartphone device, this can be a huge benefit. To start, have your client position the foam roller between their shoulder blades horizontally. Then have them place their hands behind their head as if they were doing a crunch or sit-up. Next, your client will lift their hips off the ground and begin to roll towards the head ensuring to not go past the shoulders and then back down to the starting spot. If they feel a pressure spot, they should hold that spot for about 20 seconds.
Have your client begin face-down on a mat, with the foam roller placed just under their hip on one side. Your client will use their forearms to hold their body off the ground and keep the leg extended straight out. You will then have the client roll up and down. The hip flexors are a small area, so they only need to move a few inches in each direction. If they find a tender spot, they should hold that spot for about 20 seconds. Then switch sides.
Knees to Chest
This exercise is designed to help stretch not only the lower back but also the hamstrings and glutes. Start by having your client lay on their back on the ground. Then, keeping one leg straight out, they will grab their other leg behind the knee and pull it toward their chest until a light stretch is felt. As they are doing this, you will want to make sure their low back stays flat on the ground. Have them hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds and then switch sides. This can be repeated up to four times based on how your client feels.
Outer Hip Stretch
Start with your client in a seated position with their legs extended out in front of them. Have them bend the left knee and cross it over their right thigh, keeping their left foot flat on the ground. They’ll put their left hand on the ground next to them for support, using the right hand to hug the left knee. Next, have them rotate their core to the left, ensuring their head and spine stay in properly lengthened positions. Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds and then switch sides. This can be repeated up to three times based on how your client feels.
The floor bridge is one of the most common exercises to help strengthen the muscles when lower back pain is present. To start, have your client laying on their back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Arms should be by their side with palms facing up toward the ceiling. Keeping a tight and engaged core, they will lift their hips while squeezing their glutes and pressing their feet into the floor. Have them hold the position at the top for 3-5 seconds and then slowly lower back down to the ground. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions.
Have your clients start on their hands and knees, with the hands directly below the shoulders and the knees directly below the hips. Then, slowly have your client raise the left arm and the right leg, extending straight out at the same time. A good coaching cue to use here is to have them create a straight line from their fingertip to the heel of the foot. Have your client hold that position for 3-5 seconds. The core, glutes, and hamstrings should all be engaged and tight here. Then they’ll slowly lower back to the starting position and switch sides. Repeat for 12-16 total repetitions.
Ready to Learn More?
Remember, these are just a few corrective exercises intended for the low back. If you are interested in learning more on strengthening the low back, glutes, and hamstrings check out ISSA’s Corrective Exercise Specialist course. You’ll gain knowledge and more opportunities for your personal training business.
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