3 Simple Steps Guaranteed to Reduce Low Back Pain

I feel so strongly about my low back rehab plan that I’m going to guarantee it will reduce your low back pain!

Low back pain will affect 80% of the population at sometime in their life.  Does that mean you should take a passive role and worry about the issues related to the injury when the time comes?  No!!  Being proactive and addressing the three common factors related to the injury is the smart approach and the typical method of managing injuries at MikeRyanSportsMedicine.com.

Proactive Pre-Hab

Preventative Rehabilitation or “Pre-Hab” is what wise sports medicine specialists utilize when working with elite athletes.  Determining areas of concern such as bilateral asymmetry, poor biomechanics, overly tight and hyperactive muscles/connective tissue, overly elongated and hypoactive muscles/connective tissue and/or poor posture are potential factors.

Finding potential problems and implementing a plan to improve these conditions is the basic premise of what I do every day with my athletes.  Low back therapy is one of the most challenging yet rewarding components of sports medicine.

The Benefits of Proactive Pre-Hab

When an athlete reduces or eliminates a negative factor such as an overly tight muscle or poor posture that is contributing to the symptoms, he/she will benefit in four ways:

1.  Their performance will be enhanced.

2.  They reduce the need to subconsciously compensate which will greatly reduces potential soft tissue issues elsewhere in the body.

3.  The area of concern is less prone to injury.

4.  If an injury does occur, the injury will be much less severe.

Danger Zones for Low Back Pain

In my opinion, most non-traumatic low back injuries are related to three factors.  If you focus on improving these three factors, you will gain the upper hand on preventing low back pain.  In most cases, it’s that simple.

1.  Poor Hamstring Flexibility – Too much time sitting and too little time elongating the hammys.

2.  Functionally Weak Abs – The lower abs are the key.  If you strengthen this area of your rectus abdominus, from your navel down to the front of your pelvis, you’ll be able very happy with the results.

3.  Poor Body Mechanics – It’s simply about being lazy.  From tying your shoes to picking something off the ground to sitting in a chair, poor body mechanics and poor posture is killing your lumbar disc.  Meanwhile, the disc provides no neurological feedback about it’s injury….until it’s too late.

Three Steps to Avoid or Reduce Low Back Pain

As you can imagine, these three steps of low back therapy are based on solving the three problem areas previously noted.

Step #1 – Increase Hamstring Flexibility

This may not be the fun and exciting exercise that your friends are bragging about but it may prove to be one of the most important activity of your day if staying healthy is part of your master plan.

“Lead With the Navel”

To Do: Bear with me on this one…..With your foot on a low step/chair approximately 2 feet off the floor, keep your elevated leg straight with your pelvis “squared” and facing your raised foot.  While maintaining a lordotic or “sway back” curve in your low back and your shoulders back, slowly lean forward leading with your navel to a comfortable hamstring stretch position and “freeze like a stone statue”, as I explain to my pro football players.

Using a chair or wall to help stabilize yourself, perform 5 slow and deep breaths and relax the body.  Perform for 3-5 reps of 5 breaths with the focus on maintaining the sway back position of the low back , leading with the navel and slooow breathing.

Step #2 – Improve Ab Strength from the Ribs to the Pelvis

You have six main groups of Abs and none of them go over the hip joints or shoulder joints.  Therefore, many of the exercises and fancy “Ab machines” typically force your body to compensate with other muscles instead of isolating the Abs.

To Do: Performing multiple Ab exercises to include planks, good-ol’ crunches with the feet on the ground, pelvis rolls with feet on the ground, side-lying raises, med ball throws and crunch twists are great exercises to be performed on a firm surface when applying the following key points:

  • Exhale HARD, FAST & COMPLETE with every rep.
  • Hold the end position for all moves while performing a solid 2 second isometric contraction at the end of the range,
  • Perform all reps slow and controlled throughout the complete range of motion in both directions for reps of 15.
  • Keep the rest phase between all Ab exercises very short (20-30 seconds) to maximize the fatigue of all the muscles.

Step #3 – Master Your Body Mechanics

Low Back Anatomy Lesson 101: The back discs in your entire spine have no internal nerve receptors.  Only the very outer edge of the disc has the ability to perceive pain.  Therefore, poor body mechanics can be ruining your back and literally grind up the all-important discs of the low back or neck with no warning signs or “head’s up, your killing your back” text messages.

To Do: Maintain a low back “C Curve” with the open section of the “C” facing backwards for all your activities, period.  That means when you sit in your car, when you tie your shoes, when you’re getting off the toilet, when you bend over to brush your teeth,…etc.  It sounds simple and it is when you focus on doing it consistently.  Think about how many people you know that “threw their back out” doing very simple activities.

Back saving tip: Never, never, never tie your shoeslaces with your foot on the ground.  It creates massively high intradiscal pressure in your low back and you don’t want that.   Instead, put your foot up on a chair or box to put your back and pelvis in a safe position to tie those fancy new sneakers.

In closing, I hope this opens your eyes to simple ways to avoid lumbar pain with an active lifestyle.  The goal of this article is to keep you in that happy 20% of the population that never experiences low back pain.  Focussing on the MRF motto (Keep it simple, easy to understand and producing fast results), apply these 3 simple steps daily and enjoy the ride.

Flexibility Tips: Warrior Poses for the Warrior Athlete


80% of us will have back pain at some point in our lives. How do you get to be that lucky 20%?  Or at least keep the pain minimal and have a quick and complete recovery if you do succumb to an aching back? Eating right, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight are all good ways to keep your connective tissue healthy but what more can you do to protect your spine?

Get Flexible

Try adding yoga to your weekly routine. Yoga is a great complement to cardiovascular workouts like running, biking, hiking or swimming. Those activities are all great for your heart and lungs and are wonderful ways to improve circulation, regulate blood sugar, and metabolize fatty acids but they also make your muscles tight. Cardiovascular activities require repetition of small movements of the arms, legs and torso. Athletes have notoriously tight hip flexors, hamstrings, even tight abdominal muscles, all of which can contribute to back problems. Yoga will help to improve flexibility of these muscles. It also helps reduce stiffness of the joints and to restore full mobility of the hips and spine.

Get Strong

Another benefit of yoga is that it can strengthen muscles that do not get used during our every day, forward-moving activities. It can bring attention to muscles you didn’t even know you had. The yogis of yore realized that the core muscles, (including the transversus abdominis, the pelvic floor muscles and the longus coli in the neck), are critical to our well-being long before the phyisos from Australia published papers demonstrating their correlation to back and neck pain. The yogis called these core areas, “bandhas” and taught that they were locks for the energy that flows through our centers. Doing planks and balance poses, performing warrior postures with perfect alignment are all wonderful ways to strengthen your core and keep your spine strong.

Go With the Flow

Cardiovascular activities that raise the heart rate enough to make you sweat shift blood flow away from the center of the body in order to pump more blood to the large muscles of the legs.  Yoga shifts the blood flow back toward the center. Stretching exercises make a difference.  Many yoga postures allow blood and lymph to flow more easily to the spine and can bring nutrients toward and waste products away from the cells that make up the lower back muscles, ligaments, cartilage, fascia, and intervertebral disks.

Just Breath

Many people have breathing patterns that are not really normal. They may be shallow breathers, chest breathers or may fail to use their diaphragm at all. This can contribute to undue stress and stiffness of the ribcage, the shoulder girdle and the spine. A good yoga lesson will include breathing techniques that optimize use of the diaphragm while reducing unnecessary tension in other muscles that attach to the ribcage. Learning to breath properly has all kinds of benefits, not the least of which is prevention of musculoskeletal pain in the torso.

Don’t Skip the Savasana!

Healthy, busy, goal-oriented people may be tempted to skip out on Savasana, or copse pose.  This is when you simply lie on your back at the end of class. But this pose, along with other restorative postures are an essential part of a yoga practice. Restorative postures enhance the blood flow effects described above. And they teach you how to relax. The benefits of such conscious relaxation include decreased markers of stress such as lowered heart rate and blood pressure, better digestion, and improved sleep. Restorative yoga postures are especially useful if one is feeling run down, after a high-intensity workout or competition, during a woman’s menstrual period or during periods of high stress from work or school.

Get Started

Find a teacher in your area who covers all the basics of yoga for athletes. Classes should emphasize healthy range of motion of the spine in all directions: flexion and extension as well as rotation and side bending. It should teach mindfulness of posture and breathing patterns and it should teach core muscle strength and relaxation. The class should allow ample time to hold postures in order to really learn the alignment and to maximize muscle endurance and flexibility. If you prefer to try yoga out in the comfort and privacy of your own home, there are many podcasts and DVDs that offer good instruction for beginners. Try Gaiam.com for an array of DVDs from highly qualified teachers.


More information about yoga and back pain, restorative yoga, breathing practices and various yoga postures can be found on my blog, The Pragmatic Yogi.


by guest blogger Lisa B. Minn, Physical Therapist/Yoga Instructor