Core exercises are important for everyone, but people with lower back pain can especially benefit from extra focus on the core. The spine becomes uncontrolled in how it moves, and that is how and why you can experience muscle, joint and disc injuries. Core muscles hold and protect the spine. They are small (about the size of your thumb) in the back of your spine and run from one vertebrae to another, aiding in spinal stability, or movement control.
(Side note: There are also core muscles in the front of your trunk that are about as thick as 15-20 pieces of typing paper and generally lie across the abdomen horizontally. The muscles you CAN see, that most of us think of as abs, run vertically.)
The side bridge is a fundamental core exercise that has a broad applicability for many different back problems, from fusions to disc problems to degenerative disc disease and more. It is a simple exercise and easy to learn, and requires no equipment. It’s difficult to reach those tiny core muscles near your spine, and this exercise will work them.
We know from medical studies that side bridge works the two most effective muscles that we see in back problems — the transverse abdominus and multifidus. These muscles are important because they prevent shear movement (which causes stress on your spine and back). The first response of the transverse abdominus and multifidus to pain is actually to shut down, and the side bridge exercise helps to reactivate them by restoring the ability to move and control the back. Ultimately, this helps you hurt less.
How to do a side bridge:
- Prop on your right elbow with your hips straight and knees bent back. The left hand rests on top of the right shoulder for support.
- Slowly lift your hips straight up as far as possible then slowly lower your hips to the floor. Completely relax for one second and repeat exercise.
- Aim to do three sets per side. To start with, do seven repetitions in a set, and as you get stronger, progress to 30 repetitions a set (ideally in four weeks or less). Even more beneficial: two sessions of this workout per day.
Chris Dollar, DPT, PT, FAAOMPT is a clinical specialist physical therapist and Coordinator of Clinical Education for OrthoCarolina. His area of practice focus is in the evaluation and treatment of spinal conditions.