Low back pain and sciatica Preventer exercises can be broadly split into 4 groups:

  1. Front
  2. Back
  3. Sides
  4. Other

When stabilising your spine you should have exercises for the front, back and side muscles.  This ensures that there is an even pull all round and that no muscle fatigues ahead of the others – this creates balance and minimises the risk of the “spinal buckling”.

When building up your program of preventers, you should ultimately be aiming for 2 Front, 2 Back and 1 side exercise.  The whole daily program should take 7-10 minutes.  You can have one day off per week!!

1. Front exercises work on the muscles at the front of you.

Curls Ups Level 1

Lying on your back, with one knee bent up to 90 degrees at the hip, and the other leg flat down, hands resting on belly, head on a thin pillow

Lift head and shoulders straight up towards the ceiling, just enough to tense your belly muscles, keeping elbows on the floor

Hold this position for 8 seconds

Relax back down

Repeat

Swap legs at the half-way point

Do not: 

  • Look at your knees
  • Lift higher than needed to get the belly muscles to tighten

 

Curl Ups Level 2

Lying on back

Head on thin pillow

Hands on belly

One leg bent up, the other straight down

Abdominal brace first

Lift head and shoulders and elbows off the floor, straight up towards a point directly above chest

Do not: 

  • Look at knees or Hold breath

 

Curl Ups Level 3

Lying on back

Head on thin pillow

Hands on opposite shoulders

One leg bent up, the other straight down

Abdominal brace first

Lift head and shoulders off the floor, straight up towards a point directly above chest

Do not: 

  • Look at your knees or hold your breath

 

Curl Ups Level 4

Lying on back

Head on thin pillow

Hands behind head

One leg bent up, the other straight down

Abdominal brace first

Lift head and shoulders and off the floor, straight up towards a point directly above chest

Do not: 

  • Pull on your head

Note that curl ups are safer for you than planks (below) if you have a problem with discs or compressive loading.

 

Plank Level 1

Resting on shins, elbows unders shoulders and resting on foreamrs, raise hips in the air with abdominal brace

Keep lower back in neutral – if this is painful, then lift hips slightly higher in the air

Do not: 

 

 

Plank Level 2

On your front, come up onto toes and forearms, with elbows under shoulders

Maintain neutral lower back, brace your abdomen, and hold this position

Do not: 

  • Allow your lower back to arch

 

 

Plank Level 3

Same as Plank Level 2 – remember to brace first

Once in position, lift one foot or arm off the floor and hold this position

 

Plank Level 4

Same as Plank Level 2, but once in position, lift opposite arm and leg from the floor and hold – remember to brace first

 

 

2. Back exercises work on the muscles in your back and gluteal areas

Supermans Level 1

Starting on hands and knees, with hands under shoulders and knees under hips, spine held in neutral

Abdominal brace

Lift one leg straight out behind you, ensuring not to lift it above horizontal

Stay rock-solid in the centre

Hold this position

Do not: 

  • Arch your back more than neutral
  • Sway your weight over the supporting knee

Supermans Level 2

Starting on hands and knees, with hands under shoulders and knees under hips, spine held in neutral

Abdominal brace

Lift one leg straight out behind you, ensuring not to lift it above horizontal, and lift the opposite arm straight out so that it is horizontal too

Hold this position – make sure not to sway

Do not: 

  • Sway your weight over the supporting knee
  • Allow your lower back to move in any direction

 

Supermans Level 3

Starting on hands and knees, with hands under shoulders and knees under hips, spine held in neutral

Abdominal brace

Lift one leg straight out behind you, ensuring not to lift it above horizontal, and then the opposite arm straight out in front

Now, bring the the elbow and knee towards one another, making sure not to sway across the midline when you do this

If you can, then touch elbow to knee; if not, then just bring them close and then return them to outstretched

Repeat this action for the duration of the exercise

Then do the same on the other side

Do not: 

  • Go fast
  • Sway from the midline
  • Look up

Bridge Level 1

Lying on your back, head on a thin pillow, knees bent up to 90 degrees at the hips, feet flat on the floor and hip-width apart

Arms down by sides, push down with your feet, abdominal brace and lift hips up towards ceiling

Try to lifts hips up so that there’s a straight line from shoulders to knees

Hold this position, then slowly lower back to start

Do not: 

  • Hold your breath

Bridge Level 2

Lying on your back, head on a thin pillow, knees bent up to 90 degrees at the hips, feet flat on the floor and hip-width apart

Arms down by sides, push down with your feet, abdominal brace and lift hips up towards ceiling

Try to lifts hips up so that there’s a straight line from

shoulders to knees

Once you’ve balanced in this position, straighten one leg fully

Hold this position, then slowly lower back to start

Alternate legs

Do not: 

  • Hold your breath

 

Extension over ball Level 1

Lying over Swiss ball, with hips on ball and with feet fixed under something,

Have hands by sides and abdominal brace

Lift body up so that it is in line with legs

Hold for duration

 Do not: 

  • Increase the arch in the small of your back – don’t go past neutral

 

Extension over ball Level 2

Lying over Swiss ball, with hips on ball and with feet fixed under something,

Have hands at sides of head, or just behind your head

Lift body up so that it is in line with legs

Hold for duration

Do not: 

  • Arch your lower back beyond neutral

 

Extension over ball Level 3

Lying over Swiss ball, with hips on ball and with feet fixed under something,

Have hands reaching forwards, so that arms are brushing ears

Abdominal brace and lift body up so that it is in line with legs

Hold for duration

Do not: 

  • Arch your lower back beyond neutral
  • Look up

 

Squat with overhead push/pull

Start with feet shoulder width apart and parallel (facing forward)

Abdominal brace

Hip hinge and swing hands up and forwards, with one hand in front of the other, back of front hand against palm of the hand behind

As you squat down, keeping weight over your heels, push the front hand firmly backwards as you push the back hand forwards – neither hand should win

Hold this position

Relax hands and come out of the squat (stay hinged)

Repeat, alternating which hand is in front and which behind

 

 

3. Side exercises work the muscles down your sides

Side Plank  Level 1

Starting lying on your side with knees bent a little

Come up to rest on your forearm, with your elbow directly under your shoulder

Have the hand of the upper arm on the supporting shoulder

Keep your knee in contact with the ground

Hold this position

Repeat on the other side

 Do not: 

  • Bend your head up, down, backwards or forwards – just keep it in line with the rest of your spine

 

Side Plank Level 2

Starting lying on your side with legs straight and top foot resting on the floor just in front of bottom foot

Come up to rest on your forearm, with your elbow directly under your shoulder

Have the hand of the upper arm on the supporting shoulder

Lift your hips and legs away from the floor so that there’s a straight line between centre of head, middle of pelvis and the feet

Hold this position

Repeat on the other side

Do not: 

  • Bend your head up, down, backwards or forwards – just keep it in line with the rest of your spine

 

4. Other

There are loads of other more general exercises that are known to reduce the risk of lower back pain and/or sciatica.  The most obvious one is walking!  But always observe the UIOLIBDAI principle and build up slowly.