Stabilization Exercises for Back Pain

Is your usual response to back pain to take it easy and rest? Using hot packs, ice, or any topical cream certainly helps the body relax.  This has its benefits.  However, excessive rest is not best for managing your back pain.  The key is balance.  Don’t overdo it while you are experiencing pain.  But equally important is to keep your body moving.  This gives your body the best chance of healing physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Lumbar stabilization exercises are one of your best options you have to overcome your back pain.

What are Lumbar Stabilization Exercises?

People with low back pain show weakness and poor coordination of their deep spinal muscles.  This is especially true in people with longstanding persistent pain.  In these instances, the small deep muscles that support your spine atrophy.  Poor function and weakness of these muscles are also present in people with a new onset of back pain.  This can begin within a few days of experiencing pain.

Bird Dog

Stabilization exercises retrain these key muscles.  More importantly, stabilization exercises retrain how you move.  This involves both your muscles and brain.  As confidence in your ability to move without harming yourself improves, your body returns to its normal physical, mental, and emotional state.  In essence, stabilization exercises have little to do with absolute strength.  Instead, these exercises retrain your brain to perform smooth and precise movement.  As movement improves, your pain decreases.

Research Proves Lumbar Stabilization Exercises Help

A 2016 review of the published research on stabilization exercise suggests these exercises are most beneficial for people with chronic or ongoing back pain.  This review looked at 29 different studies including more than 2,000 people with back pain for more than 12 weeks.

Compared to no or minimal treatment, these exercises are effective at reducing pain and disability in the short and long-term.  Stabilization exercises are also more effective than exercise combined with electrical stimulation or other modalities like hot or cold therapy.  When compared to other types of exercise programs and manual physical therapy, the benefits are similar.

Exercises for a New Onset of Back Pain

Stabilization exercise, also known as motor control exercise, begins within a day or two of the onset of your back pain.  They key is to begin with basic exercises that are comfortable for you to perform. The goal is to relax overactive muscles (muscle spasm) and begin to activate the smaller deeper muscles.

These exercises are typically performed lying on your back with your knees bent.  Exercises performed on your hands and knees are also encouraged early on.  However, they can begin in any position that is comfortable for you.  Quality and control of movement is emphasized over the quantity of repetitions.  Abdominal bracing and lumbar multifidus exercises are often the first progressions.  Go here and here for more examples.

Exercises for Persistent Back Pain

People with ongoing or recurrent back will require greater challenges to retrain the core muscles and their movement patterns.  The lower abdominal muscles and the small lumbar multifidus are important to target.  The key is to perform increasingly challenging movements without holding your breath or excessively tensing your body.

Stabilization exercises are progressed from supported positions lying down to functional weight bearing positions.  We start lying on the back then move to kneeling positions.  From kneeling we progress to standing. Progression is based on your ability to properly perform each movement.  Examples of a progression include the dead bug, kneeling chop, and standing Pallof press.  Go here for more examples.

The Best Lumbar Stabilization Exercises for You

The right lumbar stabilization exercises for you are based on your abilities and goals.  Your physical therapist performs an examination of your core muscle function and your movement patterns.  Exercises are then prescribed to appropriately challenge you.  Your exercise program must be progressed to achieve lasting results.  Performing the same exercises over and over again is insanity.  Give your physical therapist a call if you would like help setting up or progressing your exercise program.


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