Who knew paper plates could help to relieve lower back pain? While no special equipment is required for the Weekend Challenges, common household items are sometimes used. And this time, it’s paper plates!

This weekend we’re tackling lower back pain, with a challenge that is a fun and highly effective way to relieve pain in that area, as well as tone your arms and abs.

You’ll learn why working the abdominal muscles helps prevent lower back pain, and we’ll also take an in-depth look at its causes and implications.

Why:

Lower back pain can have various causes; here are some possibilities to consider.

1. Pressure on the sciatic nerve

The sciatic nerve originates in the lower back near the sacral vertebrae. If this nerve gets pinched or compressed, it causes pain. Sometimes that pain is limited to the lower back; other times it radiates down the leg along the path of the nerve.

Herniated or degenerated discs can put pressure on the sciatic nerve, as can a muscle deep in the buttocks called the piriformis. This muscle is usually the culprit when it comes to pinching the sciatic nerve (piriformis syndrome).

2. Muscle and ligament strain

Lifting heavy objects, twisting and turning in an unusual way, a fall, or any number of other accidents can cause injury to the muscles and/or ligaments in the lower back. When this happens, the muscles tend to tighten and tense up, and ligaments become inflamed. Sometimes, such injury can bring about muscle spasms.

In cases of strain, the pain tends to be in the muscles close to the spine and does not radiate outward.

3. Herniated disc(s)

Sometimes this painful condition is referred to as a “slipped disc,” but the disc really hasn’t slipped. Rather, herniated discs occur when a disc thins, usually due to rupture. The gel-like substance inside the disc prolapses, causing a bulge, protrusion, or extrusion of the gel.

Herniated discs can cause severe pain as the protruding gel presses on the spinal cord and/or the vertebrae lose the cushion normally provided by the disc. Interestingly, the pain of a herniated disc may be worse in the leg than in the back; but it is still a significant cause of lower back pain.

4. Osteoarthritis

When cartilage between the vertebrae degenerates due to injury, fractures, herniated discs, or surgery, it’s classified as osteoarthritis of the spine. This can lead to loss of mobility and thinning of the discs and, of course, pain.

5. Stenosis

Stenosis occurs when the spinal canal narrows, usually as a result of disc shrinkage, osteoarthritis, congenital defects, or infection. Stenosis generally has a gradual onset, with back pain growing worse over time. Sometimes stenosis can seem to “flare” when injury causes a disc herniation or osteoarthritis brings swelling and inflammation.

6. Spondylolisthesis

If a lumbar vertebra slips over another (or the sacrum), it’s called spondylolisthesis. In adults, this is usually the result of some sort of spinal degeneration, such as what might occur with osteoarthritis. Fractures are another cause of this condition, which can result in lordosis (swayback) or kyphosis, since the upper vertebrae are not properly aligned with the lower spine.

7. Low bone density/Compression fractures

As the bone tissue in the vertebrae begins to thin, the vertebrae can end up collapsing. Obviously, this can result in lower back pain as the vertebrae press closer together, and pressure on the spinal cord may ensue.

8. Weak abdominals

While not directly attributed to a spinal condition, weak abdominal muscles can bring about lower back pain. Of the main abdominal muscles (the transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis, and obliques), the transversus abdominis is particularly relevant with regard to lower back alignment, stability, and integrity.

Back in the mid-1990s, researchers were looking into the connection between abdominal muscles and lower back pain. An Australian study from that year has now become a classic, published in Spine in 1996. The researchers asked healthy people and those with lower back pain to lift one arm up over their head, an action that requires a stable spine and the contraction of the transversus abdominis (the same abdominal muscle that allows you to draw your belly inward). The scientists observed a delay in the contraction of the transversus abdominis in those participants who suffered lower back pain.1

Since the results of this study were published, it’s become common practice for health practitioners to recommend exercises that strengthen this muscle as a means of reducing lower back pain.

A more recent study took another look at the customary focus on the transversus abdominis, choosing to investigate the other three abdominal muscle groups mentioned above. They found that activating all of the abdominal muscles generates more spinal stability than targeting just the transversus abdominis. The study authors note that inclusive abdominal exercises increase pressure inside the abdomen, thus increasing stability of the spine.2

Finally, a very recent study confirmed the importance of core-strengthening exercises in relation to lower back pain. Two groups of participants with lower back pain were given either conventional exercises or core-specific ones to be practiced daily for four weeks. The study authors concluded that:

“Core strengthening exercise improves muscle imbalances, posture and enhances cardiovascular fitness, flexibility and strength in patients with low back pain.”3

Today’s exercise works all of these major abdominal muscles, scientifically proven to help stabilize and strengthen the lower back and relieve pain.

So grab two paper plates (yes, you read that right!) and take a look at how to do it.

How:

Please note: if you have any of the conditions listed above or any other condition where the integrity of your spine is compromised, or if you’re currently experiencing severe lower back pain, make sure to get approval from your physical therapist, chiropractor, or other medical professional before you try this exercise.

  1. Get down on the floor on your hands and knees. Place the paper plates under your hands.
  2. Slide your knees back until there is a straight line from your shoulder down to your knees; lift your feet up off the floor so only your knees are touching. Your hands should be directly below your shoulders and your arms perpendicular to the floor.
  3. Slide the paper plates forward about eight inches and bring them back, keeping your hands flat. Your body should stay at the same angle and your shoulders should remain stable; only your hands and arms should be moving back and forth.
  4. Repeat the back-and-forth motion 10 to 20 times – or as many as you feel comfortable doing.

If you aren’t comfortable getting up and down off the floor (or if you’d just like to round out your abdominal workout), here are two other exercises that work the same muscles without going down to the floor:

Balancing Core Strengthener

Seated Core And Oblique Strengthener

Densercise™ Includes All The Abdominal Exercises You Need And So Much More!

In the Densercise™ Epidensity Training System you’ll find plenty of core-strengthening moves. And if you have 15 minutes a day, three times a week, then you have what it takes to improve bone density thanks to the specifically designed, science-backed exercises.

In fact, what makes Densercise™ so unique is that it’s an exercise program specifically designed to build bone density. It also helps to improve your posture, strengthen your muscles, and much, much more.

Along with the clinical nutrition guidelines and simple lifestyle changes in the Osteoporosis Reversal Program, Densercise™ ensures that you’re covering all angles to reverse bone loss.

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Please feel free to share your experience with today’s exercise by leaving a comment below.

Have a great weekend!

References:

1 Hodges, P.W. and Richardson, C.A. “Inefficient muscular stabilization of the lumbar spine associated with low back pain. A motor control evaluation of transversus abdominis.” Spine. 15. 21. (1996): 2640-50. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8961451
2 Johnson, Joshua. “Functional Rehabilitation of Low Back Pain With Core Stabilization Exercises: Suggestions for Exercises and Progressions in Athletes.” Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Paper 170. (2012). Web. http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1172&context=gradreports
3 Datta, Aashima; Sen, Siddhartha; Shivpriya. “Effects of Core Strengthening on Cardiovascular Fitness, Flexibility and Strength on Patients with Low Back Pain.” Journal of Novel Physiotherapies. 2. 202. (2014). Web. https://www.omicsgroup.org/journals/effects-of-core-strengthening-on-cardiovascular-fitness-flexibility-and-strength-on-patients-with-low-back-pain-2165-7025-202.php?aid=25714

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  1. Torild March 19, 2017, 10:24 am

    What about eating egg shells for calcium ?

  2. greg March 5, 2017, 6:29 pm

    Hello Dr Vivian Goldschmidt, MA
    thanks for all your great advice 1 question i have been asked lately and i felt that you would be the best person to ask. How much stress as in strength weight training or bodyweight training do we need to apply to the the skeletal system to keep the bones healthy and reduce the risk poor bone health ?

  3. ken March 4, 2017, 2:00 pm

    the one addition I made to this was a pad under my knees – kitchen floors can be hard on the knees.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA March 4, 2017, 3:28 pm

      Good idea, Ken!

  4. Robert March 4, 2017, 12:07 pm

    Now I remember many years ago, when I had a terrible bout of lower back pain, my physical therapist showed me a similar exercise. It really helped me, and I also swam almost every day till my backache went away. I will do this exercise every day to make sure I never get the back pain again. Very much appreciated!

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA March 4, 2017, 2:12 pm

      Isn’t it amazing how the right kind of exercise can relieve pain? I am so glad you found something that works for you, and that you are empowered to keep your back pain from returning.

  5. Ellen March 4, 2017, 10:28 am

    Great exercise, Vivian! My husband suffers from lower back pain, and we both tried it this morning. Thank you!

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA March 4, 2017, 10:40 am

      Great news, Ellen! I am so glad this exercise helped.

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