Thirty-one million Americans will experience back pain at any given time, according to the American Chiropractic Association, with disc bulges and herniations among the most common causes of low-back pain. There IS a reason why wearing a brace will help to reduce the low-back pain in these situations. You do NOT need to stretch your low back, nor “roll it out” with a foam roller.
In his research on low-back rehab, Dr. Stuart McGill, Professor Emeritus of Spine Biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, has demonstrated that enhancing endurance, not strength, helps people avoid awkward postures that can lead to back pain. In other words: maintaining proper movement over the day requires endurance.
Endurance movements form the backbone of Dr. McGill’s recommended core and low-back exercises. Endurance exercises promote spine stability. “True spine stability is achieved with a ‘balanced’ stiffening from the entire musculature including the rectus abdominis and the abdominal wall, quadratus lumborum, latissimus dorsi and the back extensors of longissimus, iliocostalis and multifidus,” explains McGill. His “Big Three” exercises create a stiffness that enhances stability in a spine-sparing way and have been shown to create stiffness and stability that lasts after each session.
How do you stiffen the core to achieve spinal stability? “The abdominal brace enhances stability,” explains McGill, as it engages all of the important muscles. To properly brace, relax the abdominals and then push fingers into the oblique muscles about 5 to 12 cm lateral to the navel. Gently stiffen the abs—you will feel your fingers being pushed out. You can also adjust the brace to fit the level of activity being performed. For heaving lifting, for example, you would stiffen more, while for activities that require spine posture control (e.g., sit to stand) you would stiffen less.
The Mcgill Curl-Up
Lie down on your back. Extend one leg and bend the knee of the other leg.
Put your hands under the lower back to maintain the natural arch of your spine.
Pull your head, shoulders and chest off the floor, as though they were all locked together. Lift them up as one unit. Keep your back in neutral position. Hold for 10 seconds.
Slowly lower yourself down. Do half of the repetitions with your left leg bent and half with your right leg bent.
Try doing 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. Here’s a video explaining it.
The Side Bridge
This exercise is popular and well-known.
Lie on your side, with your forearm on the floor and elbow underneath your shoulder. Place your hand on the opposing shoulder to stabilize your torso. Pull your feet back so the knees are at a 90-degree angle.
Lift the hips off of the floor and hold for 10 seconds. Try to maintain a straight line from your head down to your knees. Make sure that your hips are in line with the rest of your body. When completed turn over to other side.
Optional: For a greater challenge, straighten the legs instead of bending them.
Perform 2-3 sets of 15-45 second holds.
Raise the left arm forward while simultaneously extending your right leg back until both are parallel to the floor. Ensure that hips are aligned with the torso and not tilted to one side. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Start with getting the form down by doing 3-5 repetitions on each side. Once you are familiar with the form, perform 3-4 sets of 10 second holds on each side.
Click here for a video explaining all the progressions.