Tips for a Healthy Lower Back

If you have ever had a major bout of lower back pain, you know that at its worst, it can take over your life. Some studies estimate that eighty percent of us will have back pain at some point in our lives. This can range from a sore back to a major problem that keeps you out of work for a prolonged period. The good news is, that with a little care, you can control your back pain and help to prevent development of a debilitating problem.

Back Exercise Program

This is what I call "brushing your teeth for your back." Daily exercise will go a long way toward controlling your back problem and helping to prevent future problems. There are three components to a good exercise program:

1. Stretching

The muscles that interconnect your low back and legs and affect the position and feedom of movement of your back. Stretching not only affects your muscles and connective tissue, but it also affects the movement of your nerves.

2. Strengthening

Exercises to build up you own "muscle lifting belt." These include your back muscles, abdominal muscles, buttock and leg muscles. With a major back problem these muscles shut down because of a pain spasm cycle. They must be retrained on how to work together to give support to the back.

3. Mobility

Maintaining the full movement of your spine is important to a healthy back. It keeps the "hinges greased" and allows more margin of error if you are in a position or activity that may potentially injure your back.

Good Body Mechanics and Movement Habits

I tell my patients to watch how toddlers move. Children inherently move in mechanically sound ways. Toddlers squat rather than bending with their backs.

I try to help people relearn good movement habits. There is a normal curve (lordosis) of the low back and it is important not to constantly flatten the curve by bending your back. Your can learn to keep your low back in a protected "neutral" position and to bend at the hips. This is called "hip hinging."

It is also important to bend your knees and move with your feet rather than planting your feet and bending and twisting your back. Keep your shoulders, pelvis and feet facing the same direction as you move. These movement patterns will cut down on the "wear and tear" on your back.

In our sedentary society, it is important to realize that prolonged sitting can be detrimental to you spine. Good sitting posture allows your back to support you. Try to keep the three natural curves of your spine (neck, mid-back, and low back) in balanced postural alignment. This involves keeping your ears over your shoulders and your shoulders over your pelvis. The lower back curve (lordosis) bears most of the strain of sitting so it is important to maintain this curve through sitting position or with proper lumbar support in your chair. I recommend that people whose jobs require hours of sitting, shift position frequently and get up at least every hour to move around and do a few simple exercises.


Having a consistent fitness activity not only helps the heart, lungs and general health, it strengthens the musculoskeletal system, including the lower back. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise. It has been shown to be as beneficial as running or more intensive exercise--it just has to be sustained longer. A forty to fifty minute walk, four or five times a week is a good amount. Start out with less and build up to this. If your are seeking help with your back or other health issues, discuss a fitness program with your practitioner. Other types of fitness exercises may be stationary bike, swimming, Nordic track, and no impact aerobics. If you already have a back problem some of these types of exercise may not be appropriate.

Listen to Your Back

If you 're involved in an activity that causes or increases your back pain, think about what you can change to alleviate the pain. If sitting increases your pain, it might help to take a short break and walk around. If you are loading the dishwasher by bending and twisting your back, it might help instead to bend at your hips, poke you rear end out a bit, bend your knees, and pivot with your feet. Your body will usually tell you what it needs if your will take time to listen and respect it.

If you've had a major bout with back pain, you've probably noticed the many way it affects your life and relationships. Some people leave their bodies mentally to avoid the pain. Try taking time to consciously feel the pain and asking yourself "What is it trying to tell me?" Could it be asking me to slow down? To take better care of myself? To learn to trust myself?"

You might consider that you can choose to let the suffering and hardships in your life tear you down or let them help you learn and grow.

Written by Krista J. Clark, PT


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