Several studies have found that a treatment approach that combines specific exercises with spinal manipulation, mobilization, and nutrition is often ideal for reducing pain and improving function in patients with low back pain. But how does your doctor of chiropractic know which low back exercises to recommend and which to avoid? The answer: it depends.
Because each patient is unique (age, health status, fitness), it’s clear that exercise prescriptions need to be individually tailored to be safe and to avoid injury. Perhaps one of the most important tools your doctor will take into consideration is the concept of directional preference. That is, which position helps your back feel good or bad? From a sitting position, first slump and slouch and then ask yourself, “Does this feel good, bad, or no different?”
Next, sit up straight and arch your lower back and ask the same question. Do you prefer one over the other? If so, the position in which you feel BEST is YOUR directional preference.
Using that concept, let’s say you feel best slumped and slouched, which is quite common. What are the “BEST” exercises for this flexion directional preference (FDP)?
- While laying down and facing upward, pull one knee to the chest followed by the other, repeating five to ten times each (staying within reasonable pain boundaries).
- While laying down and facing upward, flatten and “push” the arch of your lower back into the floor by rocking your pelvis forward and hold three to five seconds, repeating five to ten times.
- While sitting, bend forward and try to touch your toes. Repeat multiple times a day as needed.
If you feel best in the arched sitting posture, then the ideal exercises for you may be those that utilize the extension directional preference (EDP):
- While sitting or standing, place your hands behind your back, and arch your back over your hands (as far as comfortably allowed). Hold for three to five seconds, repeat five to ten times.
- Sit up as arched as your can and try to hold that position as long as possible when doing sitting tasks (computing, driving, etc.).
- Do a “saggy push-up” (also called a “Cobra,” or prone press-up) by keeping your hips on the floor while doing a push-up, arching the low back.
You can improvise and make up your own exercises using this concept, but while some discomfort is to be expected, avoid sharp lancinating pain. If you don’t have a directional preference and feel good in both positions, do ALL of the above! Your doctor of chiropractic can help monitor and train you in these and many more exercises as part of your treatment plan to reduce back pain and improve back function.