Strengthening Your Core Can Reduce and Prevent Low Back Pain
If your lower back pain seems to be on again off again and you just can’t take it anymore, it might be time to reserve 10 minutes a day for some core conditioning exercises. This is because when your core muscle groups start to weaken, your other muscles and bones have to compensate but can quickly get overwhelmed, causing you pain.
At Mind Body Spine, we are all about empowering our clients to take their health back into their own hands. This typically starts with a change in their daily routine to minimize future back and neck pain. One of the biggest regimen changes we recommend to our clients who have reoccurring lower back pain is adding more core exercises to their daily routine.
If you’re a regular gym goer, you know the importance of hitting the cardio machines, stretching, and picking up some free weights, but core exercises are equally as important and should not be overlooked. A strong core leads to better posture and balance in addition to reducing back pain.
What are your Core Muscles?
More than just your abs, your core is made up of complex muscles groups that includes your transverse abdominals, internal and external obliques, diaphragm, pelvic floor, and more. What people may not realize is that your core is like a cylinder and not only compromises the front muscles of your body, but it is also made up of the muscles surrounding the entire trunk, including some of your back muscles.
Your core is what supports your back, stabilizes nearby joints, and helps maintain the integrity of your spinal column. It is one of the most important areas of the body that a person needs to keep strong and in shape. A strong core is a stable core, and a stable core can mean less lower back pain.
The Big 3
Within the chiropractic care community in Canada, there are 3 main exercises that are recommended for strengthening your core. The 3 core exercises are known as the “McGill’s Big Three” – named for Dr. Stuart McGill, a Canadian chiropractor who pinpointed them as being the most effective for building endurance in the muscles of the core and lower back that help stabilize the spine, support your core, and protect your back.
The good news is that within the Big 3, there is no fancy equipment required, no gym membership needed, and no long list of steps to memorize.
Here are the top 3 core strengthening exercises recommended by chiropractors across North America.
1. Modified Curl-ups
Lying on your back, bend one knee while keeping your other leg straight. Put both of your hands underneath the arch of your lower back, maintaining the arch during each curl-up. Keep your abs braced and focus your gaze on one point in the ceiling. Lift your shoulder blades from the ground about 30 degrees. Keep your neck and spine in line and your head in a neutral position throughout the move.
Frequency: Do 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps with one leg outstretched and then switch legs and do 3 more sets.
2. Side Bridges
Lying down on your side, prop yourself up on your elbow. Make sure your elbow is in line with your shoulder. Keeping both legs straight, place your top foot on the ground just in front of your bottom foot. Maintaining the natural curvature of your spine, brace your abs, squeeze your glutes, and then lift your hips up off the ground.
Frequency: Hold this side bridge for 8 to 10 seconds. Repeat 3 times on each side. As you get stronger, increase the amount of reps rather than the duration of each hold. You can also throw in a leg lift once you advance.
3. Bird Dogs
Start on your hands and knees. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders and your knees should be directly under your hips. With your glutes squeezed and your abs braced, lift your right arm straight out in front of you so it’s in line with your shoulder. Squeeze your muscles between your shoulder blades.
Hold this position while at the same time straightening your left leg back so it is level with your hips. Do not tilt your pelvis. During a bird dog you will have one arm and the opposite leg both outstretched, while engaging your core to keep everything aligned. Hold for a second or two before returning to the starting position in a slow and controlled manner. Switch sides to complete one repetition.
Frequency: Start with 3 sets of 8 reps, working your way up to 10 reps.
Doing these three exercises each day will not just strengthen your core – it will also help prevent costly medical bills, debilitating pain, and the reliance on pain medication.
All of the Big 3 exercises call for bracing your abs. This refers to stiffening the core to stabilize the spine, or physically and mindfully engaging the targeted muscle group throughout the exercise. If exercising your core is new to you, practice abdominal bracing on its own first before attempting the exercises above. Here’s how:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
- Keep your hands on your hips, putting your fingertips in front of your front hip bones.
- Gently press the sides of your abs with your fingertips.
- Tighten your abs. It should feel like you are pulling your belly button in toward your spine.
- Feel the muscles under your fingertips tighten. This is abdominal bracing!
Additional Benefits of a Strong Core
In addition to helping protect your lower back, core conditioning and a stronger core can:
- improve your balance and stability
- help tone your abs
- make it easier to do most physical activities
- help you reach your fitness goals
Core exercises are just one of many ways you can support your back and reduce your back pain. For example, if you’re feeling stressed out and mentally exhausted, you will definitely want to check out our 4 Ways to Overcome Mental Fatigue. A strong body needs a strong mind backing it up! Plus, as part of her chiropractic care package, Dr. Stephanie Louie can also provide you with additional strengthening exercises and stretching recommendations.
As a chiropractor in Victoria, BC, Mind Body Spine’s entire mission is to give our clients the tools to become stronger, better versions of themselves. For more tips on strengthening your core to lessen your back pain, book a time to see Dr. Stephanie Louie at Mind Body Spine in Victoria, BC, or give us a call at 250-885-2320.