Strengthen Your Core to Fix Lower Back Pain

For fifteen years or more I suffered from lower back pain. The pain was like a chess opponent. I tried this, the problem evolved. I tried that, the problem evolved again. I’m almost seventy years old. One might be tempted to just concede to aging and move on, but I haven’t. I’m lucky to have a great family practice doc and a great physical therapist, and I didn’t give up.

Here are the final four moves in the chess game, ending with checkmate by JailBreak! First, suddenly I couldn’t carry an overnight backpack for more than two miles without pain in my left hip. My doc referred me to my physical therapist, who diagnosed it as ‘tight hips’ and prescribed four stretches which are described below. The stretches helped, for a while.

Then, whenever I went jogging I suffered from tight legs, and a sore back on the following day. The doc decided to raise the ante by referring me to someone new, who made a diagnosis (weak hamstrings) which led me down some other unproductive paths; but every step along the way gets you closer to the goal. Just keep working. The stretching helped, but was overwhelmed by other problems.

My final move in the game was to go to the web looking for ideas. I found the following YouTube video: 5 Of The Best Core Exercises You Should Do Everyday.

The result is I’m able to jog comfortably, and I’m able to do heavy labor that I could not a year ago, all without suffering from pain and stiffness on days following big efforts. The key seems to be the combination of the four stretches, plus a set of five core-strengthening exercises. Details follow.

The Stretches
Four stretches, sixty seconds each.

  • Single knee to chest stretch Lay flat on your back, pull one knee up to your chest and hold it for sixty seconds. Then repeat with the other knee.
  • Figure 4 stretch Lay flat on your back, lift one knee up, pull the other ankle across the top of the knee, pull the knee back toward your chest and hold it for sixty seconds. Then repeat with the other knee.
  • Hip flexor stretch Kneel down into a lunge position, one knee down and the other foot on the ground in front of you, knee bent at 90 degrees. Push your hips forward, but don’t lean backwards into your spine. (You should feel a stretch in the front of the hip and down the thigh.) Hold for sixty seconds, then switch sides and repeat.
  • Seated toe touch Sit with your upper body upright and your legs straight out in front of you. Lean forward from the waist and grab your toes. Hold for 60 seconds.

The Core-Strengthening Exercises
See the YouTube video here. I’m still doing the ‘easy’ version of each exercise.
The two plank exercises are tough. Pre-covid I’d go to the gym a couple times per week, and on each visit I’d do 10-second side planks, left and right, and a 30-second prone plank. The presenter in the video is asking for 60 seconds, so now I’m up to 55 seconds on the prone plank, and 40 seconds each on the side planks. The other three exercises seem crazy easy, but the impact of the five exercises together when I do them daily, combined with the stretches, is dramatic.

The bottom line
Works for me, and it’s not hard! My back feels almost as good today as ever. Let me just add that I’m not licensed or trained in medicine or physical therapy, and my intent is only to describe my personal experience and good fortune! Best wishes.

3 thoughts on “Strengthen Your Core to Fix Lower Back Pain”

  1. The exercises you mentioned are the very similar to ones a therapist told me to do. I had hip and hamstring issues too. I will look at the video.

    Consistency is the key. Stopped for me when the gyms closed.

  2. Robin McKenzie is a noted “physio” based in New Zealand.
    He’s written several self-help books, “Treat your own Neck” and “Treat you own Back.” Although not better than other physical therapies , he had a large following in the late 1990s and early 2000.
    Though “there is only weak evidence for the effectiveness of the Method’s use for treating lower back pain, and research into the effectiveness of the McKenzie Method has been of poor quality,” I have found his technique to be useful. I have used it myself and I have advocated its use for my patients with back and neck pain for 3+ decades. His books are available on Amazon (

  3. Great advice! A personal trainer once told me “your body will do what you ask of it, but sometimes it does it wrong!” The lower back muscles aren’t very large and easily strained. Strong core is the key, even though every time I try planks I wonder “how am I even functional!”

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