Fitness + Well-being

The 6 best exercises to ease lower-back pain

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This is adapted from Dr. Jordan Metzl’s Running Strong: The Sports Doctor’s Complete Guide to Staying Healthy and Injury-Free for Life.

You may not think your lower back has much of a role in running, but when you run, you hold your body vertical, of course—sometimes for a very long time.

Your core muscles support your spine and lower back, and your core, hips, glutes, and hamstrings together form one big stability machine, so weakness in any one of those muscles forces the others to take up the slack. If you have weak hip and gluteal muscles, for example, as they become fatigued during a run, your lower back is forced to work harder to keep you upright and stable, and you become vulnerable to injury.

What are the main problems runners face in their lower back? Here are three of the main issues:

1. Muscular pain that comes on suddenly in your lower back is indicative of a muscle spasm. Your muscles will feel as though they have locked up, and the pain can be severe and debilitating. You will not feel the shooting pain characteristic of sciatic or discogenic pain.

2. Pain in your lower back that is associated with shooting pains down the back of one or both legs indicates sciatica or discogenic pain. A pinched nerve causes this discomfort, so you will not experience the muscle-gripping sensation that you would feel with a spasm.

3. If you feel a chronic general achiness across the whole area of your lower back, you may have arthritis.

To prevent back pain, you need to work on strength and flexibility all through your kinetic chain. Your spine and spinal muscles get lots of support from your core. In addition, tightness or weakness in your glutes, hips, quads, and hamstrings will impact the muscles in your lower back, putting more strain on those muscles and setting them up for a spasm.

If you’re trying to fix that nagging back pain—or more importantly prevent it—try the following strength exercises.

RELATED: Run faster, get stronger, and keep away injuries with the New IronStrength Workout for Runners DVD, by Dr. Jordan Metzl and Runner’s World.         

1. Planks
Get into a pushup position but bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Engage your core, squeeze your glutes, and hold for 1 minute. Then roll to one side and hold your body up off the floor in a straight line from head to foot for 1 minute. Switch and do a plank on your other side.

2. Back Extensions
Position yourself in the back extension station and hook your feet under the leg anchors. Keeping your back naturally arched, place your hands behind your head or across your chest and lower your upper body as far as you comfortably can. Squeeze your glutes and raise your torso until it’s in line with your lower body. Pause, then slowly lower your torso to the starting position.

3. Swiss Ball Pikes
Rest your shins on top of a Swiss ball and support your upper body with your hands flat on the floor and slightly more than shoulder-width apart, arms straight. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your ankles. Without bending your knees, roll the ball toward your chest by raising your hips as high as you can toward the ceiling. pause, and then lower your hips as you roll the ball back to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 15 reps.

Note: If these are too difficult, begin with knee tucks, pulling the ball in to your chest without raising your hips. Work your way up to the pike position as you get stronger and more stable.

4. Reverse Hip Raises
Lie facedown on a bench with your torso on the bench and your hips off it. Keeping your legs nearly straight, lift them until they are in line with your torso. Squeeze your glutes, raise your hips, and pause; lower to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 15.

Note: You can also do this exercise with a Swiss ball, placing your hands flat on the floor in front of you for support.

5. Hip Raises
Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Squeezing your glutes, raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Pause for 5 seconds, and then lower to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 15.

RELATED: Run faster, get stronger, and keep away injuries with the New IronStrength Workout for Runners DVD, by Dr. Jordan Metzl and Runner’s World.

6. Cobra
Lie facedown on the floor with your legs straight behind you and your arms straight down next to your sides, palms down. Contract your glutes and lower-back muscles as you raise your head, chest, arms, and legs off the floor and rotate your arms so your thumbs point toward the ceiling. Hold for 30 seconds, and then relax back to the floor for 5 seconds. Repeat three times.

This article has been excerpted and adapted from Dr. Jordan Metzl’s Running Strong: The Sports Doctor’s Complete Guide to Staying Healthy and Injury-Free for Life. (published by Rodale, owner of Runner’s World). It is available from:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

First published on RunnersWorld.com.