Common low-back pain, soreness and stiffness can sideline even the best athletes. Here are some low-back exercises, tips and therapies to keep you in the game.
Keep moving! Walking, dynamic stretching and low-back strengthening exercises go a long way toward preventing and relieving low-back pain. Extended periods of sitting or standing can cause the hamstrings, hips and lower back muscles to stiffen, whereas moving around keeps the blood flowing to these muscle groups to keep them loose.
Perform daily static stretches for hip, hamstring and low-back muscles. Generally, tight hamstrings and hips are linked to low-back issues. Regular stretching keeps these muscle groups loose and flexible.
Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and eat fruits and vegetables with a high water content (watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, etc.) to prevent spinal discs from drying. Even slight dehydration can cause low-back stiffness and promote inflammation, which hinders pain relief.
Do a mattress check. Rotate your mattress once a month and check if it sags. Sleeping on an old mattress can cause lingering back issues. Also, if you sleep on your back, place a pillow under your knees. If you sleep on your side, place the pillow between your knees to optimally support your spine and lower back.
Practice proper lifting technique. Improper lifting form can cause back spasms or a strained muscle. Do not bend over to pick up an object. Instead, get close, bend your knees (squat), keep your back straight and use your legs (not your lower back) to provide the lift. Similarly, to prevent back strain, use mainly your legs when bringing an object from overhead or at waist level back to the floor.
Warm up. Back strains and spasms can occur when you omit a dynamic warm-up before workouts, practices and games. Be sure to adequately warm up your muscles—especially in cold weather, when a sudden twist, turn or lunge on the field can result in a back spasm.
Perform core exercises every other day. Prone, side and supine Planks and Trunk Rotations such as Side Lunges and Med Ball Twists, or Seated Russian Med Ball Twists, are excellent core-strengthening exercises for the lower back and opposing abdominal muscles. Weak abdominal muscles (the antagonist muscles to the lower back) may also create low-back issues.
Deep tissue massage. Massage therapy helps eliminate back tightness and relieves trigger points causing back pain.
Foam roller. A foam roller along your lower back effectively helps stretch out the lumbar muscles while also providing a massaging process for relieving pain and loosening tight muscles.
Tennis ball. To relieve lingering back pain, place a tennis ball on the floor and lie down with your back pressing against the ball.
Contrasting ice and moist heat applications. Following a strain to your lower back, immediately wrap an ice pack around it to reduce inflammation. Repeat several times during the first 48 hours. Contrast with moist heat applications to relax the muscles surrounding the lumbar area to enhance recovery.
Stretching. Low-back static stretches (supine knees to chest, standing, seated or supine hip and hamstring stretches) may also relieve low-back soreness.
Choose one low-back strengthening exercise per workout:
Swiss Ball Hyperextensions with Med Ball Raises
- Lie prone on a Swiss ball with your feet planted on the floor.
- Hold a light med ball (about 50-60 percent 1RM) with your arms extended.
- Slowly raise the ball above your head, pause one second at the top, and slowly lower to start position.
- Repeat 9 times. Keep your abdominal muscles tight and your stomach on the Swiss ball while lifting just your upper back/chest off the ball.
This is a good core-strengthening movement that incorporates some stabilizing muscles.
- Lie face down on the floor.
- Simultaneously raise your arms and legs off the floor.
- Pause one second, then return to start position.
- Repeat 9 times.
This is a traditional hamstring- and low-back-building exercise performed either with a barbell or dumbbells.
- Hold the bar or dumbbells above your knees and slowly lower to the floor, keeping your legs and back straight while extending your hips.
- Pause one second at the bottom and slowly return to start position.
Regular and Partial Deadlifts
Both movements build lower, middle and upper-back muscles. Regular Deadlifts are done from the floor, while partial Deadlifts are done by placing the bar on a rack just above knee level as the start position. Partial Deadlifts may be safer for the lower back. They also permit more weight on the bar, since you begin the lift in your strongest range.
Single DB Deadlifts
- Assume an athletic stance.
- Interlace your hands under the top of a dumbbell and lift it from the floor.
As with all Deadlift variations, proper technique is essential. Start each lift using your legs and hips and keeping your back straight. Deadlifts not only strengthen the lower back, they also build the legs, hips, middle and upper back, chest and arms. Performing Deadlifts improperly (e.g., rounding your back or starting the exercise by using your back muscles before your legs and hips) can strain your lower back.
Indirect low-back strengthening exercises
The following exercises indirectly strengthen the lower back while also strengthening the legs, hips and abdominal muscles:
- DB or Med Ball Side Lunges and Twists
- Bulgarian Split Squats
- Barbell & DB Squats, Lunges and Step-Ups
- Prone, Side and Supine Planks
- Supine Hip Raises with Feet on a Swiss Ball