There is no doubt that exercise does a body good and that movement is frequently the best medicine. But when it comes to low back pain, there are some moves that sufferers should definitely stay away from. If basic bodyweight exercises meant to strengthen your core have you wincing in pain, it’s time to listen to your body and make adjustments to your activity levels.
Though people who do ab exercises may be dreaming of building a six-pack, the real goal is to strengthen the core. Your core is a blanket term for the muscles that support and stabilize your trunk: it includes the abs, but also the muscles in your back and sides. When you do an ab exercise or try to tone your obliques, you’re also using your back muscles whether you like it or not – and you may be putting stress on them, causing strain and pain.
Pain is the first sign that your body sends to tell you that you’re doing too much. Trainer PJ Stahl says, “When the lower back is overactive during the core exercise, it can cause the back muscles to tense up, which can cause pain.” Taken too far those exercises can lead to spasm.
So what goes too far? Experts say that pain is frequently caused by doing an exercise incorrectly. If your tailbone isn’t properly tucked under during ab exercises, the back will end up hyperextended. The lower back needs to remain grounded for most ab work, and if it is not then it is vulnerable to injury. Sometimes this is a result of not having been properly trained on the right way to do the exercise, and sometimes it isn’t. There are many times that it reflects a lack of strength in the core keeping you from being able to maintain the position properly, and leading to injury. Fatigue may play a role too.
The best thing you can do if you are feeling pain is to stop doing what hurts. When your body sends you a message through pain, you need to pay attention. It also helps to know which exercises are most likely to cause pain, and those are the ones that cause a hyperextension of the spine. Examples include:
Lower leg lifts that require lying flat on the back while moving your legs. If you can’t keep your back flat and tailbone tucked under, you could end up hurting yourself.
Full range sit-ups can make you use your hip muscles and cause pressure on the spine. Try crunches instead, and try putting a ball between your thighs and squeezing it while you’re doing them to stabilize your pelvis.
Bicycle crunches and Russian twist both cause a twisting of the spine that can aggravate existing lower back issues. To get the benefit of these exercises without hurting yourself, do these exercises slowly and shorten the range of motion.
As you do these exercises and build strength, you will eventually find yourself at less risk for injury and pain.