Muscular strain is the most common cause of lower back pain in adults. The concept of sagittal imbalance, complex as it sounds, can be summarised this way:

Abuse your back and it will abuse you.

Perhaps that’s pushing the limit of oversimplification, but the fact remains that most peoples’ back pain can be (nearly) completely relieved with some anti-inflammatory medicines, and – once your pain level has decreased – by regularly doing exercises that strengthen your back muscles.

Most people can name a pectoral muscle, the lats, biceps and triceps, quadriceps, hamstrings etc. But you’ll find many scratching their heads to name a few of the important muscles that work hard all the time to keep us sitting up, standing , and living the lives we enjoy living.

So, let’s be sure to treat our back muscles with the respect that they deserve.

Here are 8 simple Back Strengthening Exercises you can do at home on your own.

1. Heaven and Earth
(Alternatively, The Cat and The Cow)

Get down on all fours (yes, like a cat.. or a cow) as shown.

Slowly arch your lower back to the sky (yes, like an angry cat). Try to look into your chest so that your head follows the curve of your spine.

Hold this position and count to 10.

Then sink your lower back slowly toward the floor, creating a ‘reverse arch’ in your lower back.

Imagine you are trying to hold a coconut on your back. Keep your eyes looking at the floor.

Hold this position and count to 10. Repeat the whole exercise 10 times.

2. The Baby Dinosaur
(Alternatively the Bird /Dog Exercise)

Get down on all fours again as shown.

Extend your RIGHT arm in front of you and your LEFT leg behind you simultaneously. Hold yourself steady.

It may help to imagine someone has placed four glasses of water on your back – one on each shoulder and one on each side of your hips – and told you not to drop them (I can’t imagine anyone would actually do this, but hey, whatever helps).

Keep your eyes looking straight ahead in front of you.

Hold this position and count to 10.

Then alternate with the other arm and leg.

(NOTE : There is no paleontological evidence that baby dinosaurs actually did this exercise. There is however evidence that I sometimes have an overactive imagination. Just ask my wife 🙂 )

3. Penang Bridge
(Alternatively London Bridge, or Hip Bridging Exercise)

Lie comfortably on the floor with your face up. Keep your arms beside you with your palms facing the floor . Bend your knees as shown.

Slowly lift your hips/pelvis and lower back off the floor as much as you can (but don’t bend or stress your neck). Keep your eyes looking toward your thighs.

Hold this position for 10 seconds then slowly bring your back and hips to the floor again.

Repeat this exercise 10 times.

4. Black Panther Stretch
(Alternatively, Shell Stretch)

Get down on all fours as in the previous exercises. Draw your body back till you can sit on your heels.

Stretch your arms out in front of you as shown in the picture – as far as you can go without causing pain.

Keep your eyes looking into your chest. Breathe in and breathe out while counting to 10.

Repeat this stretch 10 times.

5. The Dance of the Flower
(Alternatively, Seated Side Bend)

Sit cross-legged comfortably. You can sit on a chair (without an arm rest) if you cannot sit cross-legged.

Keep both sides of your buttocks evenly on the floor (or chair) and lift one arm up in line with your face, pointing it toward the ceiling.

Bend your head, neck and shoulders to the opposite side as shown and hold this position for 10 seconds before coming back to the centre.

There’s no need to stiffen/ tense your arm, neck or shoulders. Imagine you are a flower swaying in the breeze (if you can’t imagine this, perhaps a walk in the park may be necessary first).

Repeat with the other arm. Aim to do 10 stretches with each arm

6. We are the Champions
(Alternatively, The Superman)

I recommend that all my back pain patients do this exercise as soon as their level of pain allows.

Lie down on the floor with your stomach facing down as shown in the picture. Bring your arms out in front of you as shown.

Slowly lift both your arms and both your legs up toward the ceiling as far as they can go.

Hold this position for 10 seconds, then slowly bring your arms and legs back down.

Repeat this exercise 10 times, when you wake up and before you go to sleep.

(NOTE: If you can’t lift all 4 limbs at once, do it with one arm and one leg at first, then slowly work your way up to both arms and both legs.

If you can’t hold your limbs up for 10 seconds in the beginning, aim for 5 seconds, then work your way up to 10… and even 20 as your back gets stronger!)

7. Knee to Chest Stretch

Lie flat on your back with your knees slightly bent.

Bring one knee up toward your stomach and pull it gently toward your chest with your hands as far as it can go.

Hold this position and count to 10. Then lower your leg and do the same exercise with your other leg.

Aim to do the exercise 10 times with each leg.

8. The Boss
(Alternatively, Seated Piriformis Stretch)

Sit comfortably on a chair without an armrest.

Cross your right leg over your left thigh as shown. Gently press down on your right knee and bend your body forward.

Hold this position and count to 10.

Bring your right leg down and repeat the exercise with your left leg.

Aim to do this exercise 5 times with each leg.

Although we can relax, our spinal muscles never can, so let’s show them a little love.

A big thank you to physiotherapist Maalini Devi for always being open to our musculoskeletal consults.

NOTE: While most cases of back pain can be treated with exercise and simple medicines, there can be serious conditions that cause back pain. If you have numbness or weakness in your hands or legs, urinary or bowel problems, or you suspect something is amiss, see your friendly orthopaedic surgeon or doctor as soon as possible.

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While I do my best to provide cutting-edge orthopaedic surgical care, I firmly believe that God heals – I’m just here to help you on your body’s journey to recovery.

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To live is to keep moving
To live is to keep moving

Dr Putra Vatakal is a Kuala Lumpur based Orthopaedic Surgeon passionate about life, movement and open & arthroscopic joint reconstructions.