Back pain is such a difficult issue to contend with. It's hard to diagnose and locate, there are many possible culprits, and sometimes, it's going to be chronic.
Some cases of pain, especially as they relate to injury, should only be dealt with by a medical professional. However, in the cases of chronic lower back pain that might have been there for a while, there are some exercises that can help. Just make sure your client gets permission to do these exercises from their doctor before moving forward.
When it comes to muscular development, we all have a unique physiology. We develop asymmetrically as we favor one side or area of the body over another. And sometimes, this causes an imbalance in the muscular system that can lead to lower back pain.
The muscle groups that support your lower back consist of your core muscles, your glutes—including the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus (the butt muscles)—the muscles in your pelvis, your hamstrings, and your quadriceps. In some cases, the development level of your upper back can also affect the amount of strain your posture places in your lower back.
The muscles within the lumbar spine itself are critical in terms of exercise but also rest, recuperation, stretching, and mobility training (think foam rolling). There are so many joints that connect in this area that can have functional issues, which is why it's so important to assess muscle imbalances if your client is complaining of pain that might not have responded to other options.
More often than not, specific lower back pain that can be helped with exercise will boil down to stretching and boosting the supportive tissue around your lower back. Working on your glutes is a great way to support your lower back. So, let's dive in and see what will make a difference!
To begin with, pain is often something that constricts movement. Stretching allows you to gently push the limits of your mobility. So long as you keep it within an appropriate range and are not in pain, stretching is the first step.
Stretching is interesting because regardless of how good or bad someone is at stretching, they can always get better. It's important to warm the muscles slightly with a little activity so that as you stretch, the muscle naturally elongates, like laying out hot taffy in a candy shop.
Most of these stretches are going to surround the hip joint, as this is one of the most effective ways to stretch the glutes.
While sitting in a chair, cross your left leg over your right, with your left ankle resting on your right knee, so that your legs resemble the number 4.
Bend forward at the hip, and place slight pressure into your left leg. Hold this stretch for a count of ten, then stretch the other side, placing your right foot on your left knee. Repeat this three times.
This popular yoga pose is a great way to engage the muscles all along your back, from head to toe. With your glutes at the top of the body bridge you make in this position, it forces them to activate and allows you to push your muscles a little further.
Hold this pose and focus your attention on your glutes. Arch your back slightly to really feel the stretch in the seat of your glutes. Hold for 30 seconds at a time.
While flat on your back, bring your right knee into your chest and embrace the knee with your arms. Pull the knee into your chest until you feel the stretch in your glutes. Hold this for ten seconds, then release. Switch knees, and repeat. Hold each knee for ten seconds and repeat.
Many exercises will target the smaller, more nuanced muscles in the glutes, but when it comes to weak glutes, you really need to focus on bigger muscle groups.
It's important to take the time and do some glute activation exercises to prime your muscles and get the most out of these exercises.
Because the glutes are central to so much activity in the body, you often have to do some total body movements to really engage the glutes enough to strengthen them effectively.
The deadlift will target the hamstrings, glutes, and back muscles.
For this exercise, either with dumbbells or a barbell, begin from the standing position with the weight on the ground, feet shoulder-width apart. Keep the legs straight, but with a slight bend in the knee, bend over at the hip.
Holding the weight on the ground and keeping your back straight and rigid, raise your torso to a standing position while engaging your hamstrings and glutes.
The goal with these exercises is to strengthen the muscles, to try to use a weight that is challenging to complete ten reps, but still possible. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps of this exercise.
Lay on your back with your feet flat on the floor, knees bent, your bottom resting on the ground.
Engage your glutes and push your butt up into the sky to form a bridge. Hold this for 60 seconds. Repeat three times.
Squats are great at engaging your glutes. But there's a variation on a squat that will put even more focus on developing glute strength.
For this exercise, stand with your back facing the wall, but with a swiss ball pinned between the wall and your lower back.
While leaning back into the swiss ball for balance, lower your torso until your knees reach 90 degrees, and return to standing. Repeat for ten reps and do three sets of this exercise.
There is a huge difference between someone who has had x-rays and other tests that show the muscles aren't injured and someone who has fresh back pain.
Anything new should be checked out by a doctor first. This is a very serious consideration you need to make in terms of liability exposure.
Only work with back pain when your client gets the okay from their medical providers. This will ensure that you are covered, and they stay healthy and safe.
If you would like to know more about training weak glute muscles, check out our article here!
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