4 steps to selecting the best exercises for lower back pain

Lower back pain is one of the most prevalent medical conditions. It affecting around 80% of the population.

The best way to fix lower back pain remains elusive. We know a number of options that are effective for most people.

However the best option is different for different people. There is still some trial and error in figuring out the most effective treatment option for your lower back pain.

Medication and exercise for lower back pain

Two of the most effective options – medication and exercise – work at different times in the lower back pain episode.

Medication, like simple paracetemol, can help ease the initial pain in the first few weeks. This is known as the acute phase of lower back pain.

The medicine helps by affecting the way you feel pain. That’s enough to get you moving again but it’s not a cure and it’s not a long term option.

Other medications work with more severe pain or muscle spasm but they’re rarely required.

After you’ve got moving again, usually with ongoing back soreness, it’s time to get back to normal.

That’s when exercises for lower back pain comes in.

Effective exercises for lower back pain

The best exercises for lower back pain fit specific criteria:

  • You feel better after doing the exercise
  • You can do the exercise with a smooth, well-controlled movement
  • The exercise targets range of motion or strength that is functional for the back
  • The exercise doesn’t generate too much muscle fatigue

You should feel better after doing the exercise/s.

If you’re effective in restoring normal functioning of the lower back, the back is comfortable and able to move with more confidence afterwards.

If the exercise is overloading the back for its current capacity, it’ll become sore and begin to guard against movement, This will delay your recovery and reinforce bad movement patterns.

The exercise should involve a smooth well-controlled movement.

If you find the movement painful, jerky or it just doesn’t look normal, there’s a good chance that it’s not helpful.

The brain learns quickly and it adjusts your movement based on recent experience.

So it the exercise movement doesn’t allow smooth movement, the brain will replay that same movement pattern for your daily tasks.

This will slow your progress and generate some unhelpful barriers to recovery.

For the back to function normally, it needs to move functionally

“Functional movement” as a term has been overused and abused in many gyms. It’s nothing fancy and doesn’t have superpowers.

It literally means any movement that mimics the actually job of the lower back.

The back needs to bend and twist while remaining supported by muscles.

So a functional exercise should do the same.

On the other hand, a plank exercise might be good for strength but it’s not mimicking a normal movement pattern.

This doesn’t provide confidence for the brain to return to normal movements so it’s of limited benefit.

Don’t overcook your strength work

Some fatigue is necessary for strength gains. But if you try to get stronger too quickly, it leads to increased muscle fatigue and soreness.

The fatigue prevents the back from moving and functioning normally for a period of time afterwards.

So while you’re fatigued, you’re more likely to irritate the underlying lower back pain. And excessive fatigue can also trigger muscle spasms, which further delays recovery.