Can Core Exercises Really Help with Low Back Pain?

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Low back pain (LBP) has long been acknowledged as a pressing health care problem, with current research estimating between 50-85% of adults will experience LBP at least once in their lifetime1-3.

What makes LBP such a challenging problem to address? Even folks at The Economist covered this problem recently in their article “The Burden of Back Pain.

The biggest hurdle is that there are several different potential causes of LBP. Often, when the mechanism of the pain is not clearly evident, individuals are diagnosed with ‘non-specific low back pain’—a catchall term that encompasses up to 85%G of LBP sufferers.

One tenet that has long been established by researchers investigating LBP is that varying levels of spinal instability are present and measurable in those that have LBP versus those without4.

‘Spinal instability’ sounds extremely serious and alarming—it’s a phrase that could (understandably) lead one to believe that their spine is fragile and that they need to avoid specific movements and/or vigorous exercise in order to spare further instability or potential injury to their spine5. For the vast majority of people this is not the case*.

Though instability can eventually lead to chronic pain, injury and degeneration if it is allowed to persist and worsen, our spines are made to move!

So what is really happening?

Instability in the spine

  • Changes the biomechanics – how your body should be moving3-4, 6-7
  • Irritates the surrounding tissue in the spine – which will eventually lead to pain5
  • Corrupts the nerve flow – incorrect information to/from the nervous system4

Is there something you can do about correcting—or preventing—spinal instability? YES!

First, chiropractic care and regular chiropractic adjustments are a safe and effective way to make sure that your spine is properly aligned—the spine can’t move properly if it’s not aligned properly. Chiropractic adjustments also remove nervous system interference due to misaligned vertebrae.

Second—and just as important—your body needs to re-learn the correct biomechanical/movement patterns. But how? Exercises targeting the low back and core, that’s how!

While there is still controversy and debate about specific exercises protocols for LBP, research has conclusively established is that core exercises significantly reduce LBP especially for those with sub-acute and chronic non-specific low back pain1-3, 6-8.

Time to start working your core!

Here are some simple core exercises that you can do it at home or at work.

*Always consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you are experiencing any type of pain.

Sit on a stability ball.

A stability (or gym) ball continuously activates your abdominal and back muscles to maintain a healthy posture. It’s advised to rotate your hips in small circles while sitting straight.  This will help engage your upper and lower abs.

Hovering your feet

Sit with your feet flat on the floor and knees bend at 90 degrees. Lift up your feet just an inch away from the floor, and rock your pelvis side to side. Gradually lift your feet higher off the ground.

Do these exercises as often as you can, stick a sticky note near your workstation or set reminders in your mobile phone to make sure you’re doing it every day.

Marching on the spot

This may come as a surprise to many but marching is a really good workout for your abdominal muscles. You can do this sitting or standing. Maintain an upright posture with a neutral lumbar spine while you march on the spot. Do it slowly with control, making sure that your chest is always upright.


  1. Searle A, Spink M, Ho A, Chuter V. Exercise interventions for the treatment of chronic low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Clin Rehabil. 2015; 29(12): 1155-67.
  2. Saner J, Kool J, Sieben JM, Luomajoki H, Bastiaenen CHG, de Bie RA. A tailored exercise program versus general exercise for a subgroup of patients with low back pain and movement control impairment: a randomized controlled trial with one-year follow-up. Man Ther. 2015; 20: 672-9.
  3. Bruno P. The use of “stabilization exercises”to affect neuromuscular control in the lumbopelvic region: a narrative review. J Can Chiropr Assoc 2014; 58(2): 119-129.
  4. Panjabi MM. The stabilizing system of the spine. Part I. function, dysfunction, adaptation, and enhancement. J Spinal Disord. 1992; 5(4): 383-9.
  5. Stilwell P, Harman K. Contemporary biopsychosocial exercise prescription for chronic low back pain: questioning core stability programs and considering context. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2017; 61(1): 6-17.
  6. Shahvarpour A, Gagnon D, Preuss R, Henry SM, Larivière C. Trunk postural balance and low back pain: reliability and relationship with clinical changes following a lumbar stabilization exercise program. Gait Posture. 2018; 61: 375-81.
  7. Aluko A, DeSouza L, Peacock J. The effect of core stability exercises on vatiations in acceleration of trunk movement, pain, and disability during an episode of acute nonspecific low back pain: a pilot clinical trial. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2013; 36(8): 497-504.
  8. Gomes-Neto M, Moura Lopes J, Sena Conceição C, Araujo A, Brasileiro A, Sousa C, et al. Stabilization exercise compared to general exercises or manual therapy for the management of low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Phys Ther Sport. 2017; 23: 136-42.


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