Lumbaring Back

This page is a description  of the Low Back exercises found in this 24 minute video.

Low back pain is so frequent in our modern society it has been called epidemic but for the most part it does not have to be this way.  There are several easy exercises you can do to keep your low back in good working order.   The lumbar spine is supported by 3 sets of muscles in the back, sides and front, respectively called the Erector Spinae, the Quadratus Lumborum, and the Ilio-Psoas.   Most lumbar pain is caused by constriction of these muscle groups due to either too much strain or to too little activity.   The general solution is quite simply, to make them more pliable and flexible.

Over many years of practice I have found that three or four exercises at the most do the job very well.  Often only one is adequate. That one is at least as old as belly dancing and two are Osteopathic inventions so far as I can tell.

1.  The first one can be compared to belly dancing in the way it takes your waist through it’s natural range of motion.  Begin by sitting with your spine comfortably vertical.  Slouch your low back backwards creating a curve that protrudes posteriorly.   Then return upright and push your belly forward creating a curve anteriorly.  You can slowly repeat this back and forth movement for a minute or two.  Take care not to push to your full limit but stay within a nice comfortable range of 70-80%.  The reason is that as your body approaches it’s limits the nerves will sense danger and automatically begin to tighten the muscles and you’ll work against yourself.  (For a fuller discussion of this go Here.)

The next piece is to shift your torso to the left and right over your hips, preferably remaining vertical.   And the last piece is to combine the front/back and left/right motions into circles: back, right, front, left, and vice versa.  Make the circles as smooth and as comfortable as you can.  Size is not important; in fact smaller is often better because it carefully addresses the tiny constrictions which would otherwise get overlooked.  Feel for exactly where the constrictions are and slowly smooth them out.

Once your body gets used to this motion a few minutes a day of circling may be all you need.  The circling can also be done standing (where it most resembles belly dancing), or on all fours, or flat on your back with your knees up.  If you’re in so much pain you can’t get out of bed you can carefully and deliberately do the routine flat on your back and with enough time usually alleviate the worst if not all of it.

2.  The next trick comes from Osteopathy and is known Muscle Energy Technique (MET),  but it would be more accurately labeled Muscle Nerve Technique because it is designed to cause the nerves to let go.   I use this for the muscles in front and back of the spine.

2.a.  Starting with the Erector Spinae in the back,  sit comfortably and lean forward until you notice any small amount of pain or any type of small glitch at about 10 pounds of force. Again, we’re after the small restrictions so you don’t want to just blast on through. Stay at that angle and start to return upright with only 10-20% of your effort for about 10 seconds.  Then let go and you should easily lean a few more degrees.  Allow your muscles to adjust and relax into this new length for another 10 seconds.  You can repeat the whole process another 4-5 times before reaching the limits of what the technique can do.

If you prefer you can stand and lean over, or sit on the floor and lean over your extended legs.  The procedure will still be the same.

2.b.  Now we can do the same technique for the Ilio-Psoas in front of the spine, behind your organs where it’s nearly impossible to reach.  Often tension here will by mistaken for a problem on the back side.

For the right side kneel down on your right knee. Have you left leg out front, knee bent 90 degrees,  foot flat on the floor.  Support yourself with one or both arms on a chair or bed. The right knee will be a few inches behind you in a stretch commonly known as a “lunge.”   Move your torso, which is vertical,  forward, thus bending the right leg further back until you feel the first little bit of resistance or pain deep in your belly, at about 10 pounds of pull.  Try to keep your tailbone from extending backward but keep it vertical along with your torso.  A hand on your hip bone will help.

Now you activate the Muscle Energy Technique by curling the tailbone forward with 10-20% of your effort for 10 seconds.  Let go and you should right away get a few more degrees of stretch.  After acclimating for another 10 seconds you can repeat the process 4-5 times.  And of course you would do the same on the left side.

If by chance you’ve pinched anything on your backside you could simply resolve it with another forward bend.  If you have trouble kneeling you could also do the stretch standing, extending one leg behind you.  It’s also possible to lie down on on your back at the edge of a bed and let one leg fall off the edge.  To control the dangle angle, about half of your thigh should be on the bed and half off.

3.  If your issue is only on one side the tension could be in the Quadratus Lumborum.  For this the best technique is called colloquially “Fold and Hold, ” and I’ll skip the other names because they don’t describe it any better.  If you’re addressing pain on the right side lean to the right about 10-20  degrees, supporting yourself with your right arm, and compressing the muscle with the weight of your torso.  Then you could fine tune by turning the torso a little to the right and left and/or tilting the pelvis a little forward and backward.   Once you feel you’ve got just the right spot stay there for 90 seconds or so and if all goes well the muscle will relax and the pain will disappear.

How do you recognize the right spot?   One way is the place it feels most critical, which could mean most painful.   The other way is where it feels most comfortable, the least painful.  Both will work so it’s up to you.  If I can’t find a comfortable niche I go with the pain;  it’s only 90 seconds anyway.

So there we have three simple, surprisingly effective exercise that can be done in less than 15 minutes.  I like to do them every day whether I feel any constrictions or not and I’m always glad I do.   Opening up the musculature also opens the blood vessels, the nerve signals and the energy grid and you feel it right away.

Although muscle pliability alleviates most problems, too many folks in our society have a more serious problem known as bulging or ruptured discs.   These are caused by too much pressure weighing down on the spine which could have the same causes as muscle tension:  excessive strain from lifting (or gaining) too much weight,  or compression from too sedentary a lifestyle, or both.   The solution then is to take the compression off the spine so that the discs can get pulled back in where they belong.

4.  There are many ways to stretch the spine and reverse the compression and I will suggest the simplest and safest, but you’ll need to be creative.  You will need something rigid to lie on and strap your waist onto which can then be placed on a tilt.  Often gyms have a slant board for doing sit-ups which could work.  A bench, a see-saw, or sturdy plank will work.   Find a way to strap yourself onto it at waist level, at the pelvic/hip bones in particular and flatten your back by bending your knees so that your feet are flat on the board.  Then someone else will need to prop up the feet end a few  inches or more, about 10 degrees to start, and you will simple remain there for 5, 10, 15 minutes and let the weight of your upper body stretch the spine.

The appropriate degree of tilt and the optimal time will be determined by how it makes your spine feel so this calls for paying very close attention.  Some chiropractors  have special tables that use 60 pounds of pull so in theory if you weigh 120 lbs. you could safely hang from your mid-section vertically.  However it is very easy to overstretch so always err on the side of caution!  It is quite possible to tear something if you get too enthusiastic.

Finally, a less common but significant cause of lumbar pain is constriction in the abdominal organs or their attachments.   The organs are all attached to the spine through a three dimensional membrane called the peritoneum.   This may not be an issue you can resolve on your own although it is possible to relax the tensions with your own hands and certainly worth a try.  Visceral manipulation is a skill possessed by a relatively small percentage of manual therapists.  I bring it up mainly to make you aware of it.    Sometimes pain indicates an organ requiring medical treatment, for example kidney stones can be felt as low back pain.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of lumbar issues but these simple exercises will successfully treat the majority of them.  You’ll be much happier if you’re not part of this epidemic.