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When we look at solving a back pain problem, there are some fundamental exercises that we use on a daily basis at Spine+Fit Clinic in Cheyenne Wyoming. 

These exercises are featured throughout our three phase approach to solving back pain:

1. Reduce Pain

2. Restore Movement

3. Rebuild Strength.

The key with these exercises, and really any back pain strategy, is to apply them to the right person, at the right time in their back pain recovery or strength development. This requires an accurate diagnosis by a health care provider, and guidance as to the timing and appropriateness of the particular exercises. Doing any old exercise that you find on the internet or that helped your cousin’s best friend’s girlfriend, may yield less than optimal results. 

Our first exercise, for gentle mobilization of the back, is the Cat Cow, aka the Cat/Camel, aka the Angry Cat, you get the idea… 

For a gentle mobilization of the spine, it’s hard to beat this exercise. We use the Cat/Cow in our programming, when appropriate, for several different reasons.  It can reduce stiffness, reduce pain, improve movement confidence, and even be used as a warm-up activity to prepare the spine for more rigorous movements or exercises. 

Here’s a great look at the Cat/Cow, with even more names for this simple exercise! 

The Cat/Cow

Our next exercise(s) for back pain, is actually one of three featured exercises brought to us by Dr. Stuart McGill. 

This Canadian Professor is one of the world's foremost experts when it comes to the biomechanics of the lumbar spine.  Dr. McGill’s “Big 3” is a staple in Chiropractic offices and Physical Therapy clinics around the world. As before, they should be applied appropriately and guided by a trusted healthcare provider.

The Big 3:  Bird Dog, Side Bridge and the Curl Up (Modified).

A great article from the American Council on Exercise on Dr. McGill’s Big 3 can be found here:

Dr. McGill's Big 3

My final choice for the top 5 exercises for low back pain is… not really an exercise at all.

The Hip Hinge is a movement strategy designed to reduce the amount of bending in the lumbar spine, by learning to bend from the hips instead. 

By using this strategy, we can allow the lumbar spine to be more stable, and likely reduce stress, pain and inflammation in its tissues such as discs and nerves.

For a brief introduction to the hip hinge, you can check out this video:  

Devilishly Handsome Man discussing Hip Hinge

I’ve seen this strategy take a person from painful bending to easily lifting a 88 lb kettlebell with zero pain within a very short period of time, it’s that powerful when done correctly.

A word of warning on the hip hinge, it can be quite challenging to learn on your own.  Often times, a person can’t initially tell the difference between a lumbar bend and a hip hinge.  If we’re practicing the wrong movement, we may aggravate many back pain conditions. Professional help is definitely recommended.