Several years ago I hurt my lower back so badly that I had to have my friends pick me up off of the couch and walk me to the bathroom so I could shower. I was about 19 years old, before I was a Certified Personal Trainer, and I was working out at my school’s gym. In the middle of my warm up I felt a sharp pinch in the left side of my lower back. For a few seconds I couldn’t move. My legs felt heavy, I couldn’t straighten my back, and I was short of breath. I hobbled over to my workout partner and asked him to drive me home. When we got back I laid on the couch and seriously contemplated going to the hospital. My roommates walked me to the shower and then I laid down in bed and could hardly move for the rest of the day. I went to the doctor the next day and it turned out to be bad muscle spasms which took a few days to go away and a few weeks to feel close to 100% again. I learned a lot from that experience, even though it wasn’t nearly as severe as some of the people I’ve trained in the past. I learned a few ways that you can prevent lower back injuries and actually make your lower back feel better every day.
1. Sleep On Your Back
If you don’t have sleep apnea and don’t snore, your best bet is to sleep on your back. I’m telling you from my personal experience that I’ve noticed a huge difference doing this. I used to be a stomach-sleeper for years and always had lower back discomfort. After I injured my back I physically couldn’t sleep on my stomach so I was forced to sleep on my back. When you sleep on your back you’re essentially maintaining a neutral spinal position and you’re head remains elevated. Sleeping on your stomach puts more pressure on your lower back throughout the night because it doesn’t support the natural curvature of your spine.
2. Sleep On Your Side
If you’re a snorer, have sleep apnea, or just hate sleeping on your back then this is your next best bet. Sleeping on your side still supports the natural curvature of your spine and can help open your airways if you have problems breathing at night. Tuck a pillow or bunched up blanket in between your legs to keep your hips aligned and don’t tuck your knees in too close to your chest. A problem I’ve noticed from sleeping on the same side every night is tightness of the shoulder. I’ve noticed this myself and I’ve noticed it training my clients and asking if they sleep on their side and what side they sleep on. Try to actively remember to alternate the side that you sleep on. If you start feeling tight on one side, stretch during the day and sleep on the opposite side the following night and see if that helps.
3. Stretch Your Hips Every Day
I’ve noticed by doing a few hip stretches every day my lower back is no longer uncomfortable when I have to sit for extended periods of time. I generally hold each stretch for 20 seconds and perform each stretch 2-3 times. These are the stretches I do every day (if I can) and have experienced great relief by doing:
Cross Over Glute Stretch
Lying Cross Over Glute Stretch
Downward Facing Frog Pose
Ankle to Knee Pose
Google any of these exercises, or “hip stretch” & “glute stretches” and you’ll get complete instructions on how to perform these exercises. These have been more helpful to me than most lower back stretches.
4. Get Up and Move
Sitting in a chair or laying down all day may seem like a good way to avoid lower back pain but it’s actually counter-intuitive. To my surprise, when I hurt my back I was told to rest for 1-2 days and then start doing some light cardio and exercise. I obviously wasn’t squatting 300 lbs again but I was doing some light-moderate cardio on an elliptical, stretching, and doing some bodyweight exercises. This helped me increase my blood flow to the muscle and loosen it up. When you sit all day you’re putting a lot of pressure on your lower back for hours on end. Take a 5-15 minute break every 2 hours to get up and move around, stretch, or just walk somewhere to keep your lower back from tightening up in that chair. You’ll notice the improved blood flow to those muscles when you sit back down. You should feel a lot more comfortable afterward.
5. Build Your Core Strength
Developing some core strength is probably the best preventative measure you can take to avoid lower back pain. To prevent hurting your lower back you should to develop good posture and make your lower back resilient to the everyday demands you put it through. I’ll list a few exercises you can do every day to develop some strength in your core that are easy and effective:
Plank: 3 sets x 30 second reps
Birddog: 3 sets x 5, 10 second reps on each side
Leg Raises: 3 sets x 15-20 reps
Back Extensions: 3 sets x 15 reps (don’t hyperextend, stop the movement once your back is straight).
Deadlift: 3 sets x 10 reps (make sure you’re with someone who can check your form and make sure you’re doing this exercise right).
Keep in mind that I’m not an expert on this subject, I’m just sharing from my own experiences. If you’re suffering from severe back problems you should consult a physician. If you suffer from a chronically achy, uncomfortable lower back then hopefully this helps you!
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