Low Back Pain & Core Muscles

Low back pain is one of the leading causes of disability. It presents as achy stiff pain in the lower back area that can be due to muscle or joint issues. Most people will make a full recovery within a month while others will have pain that lasts longer, going from an acute issue to a chronic one. There is a lot of research that has looked at treatment options for chronic low back pain with core exercises considered to be one of the best!

Core exercises focus on the abdominal muscle: external obliques, internal obliques, transverse abdominals and rectus abdominis (commonly known as your abs). These muscles are found between your ribs and your hips, known as the abdominal area. Core exercises help by providing voluntary contraction of this specific muscle group, emphasize proper posture, increase stabilization efficiency and co-ordinate neurological functions.

McBig 3

One of the best core exercise programs for low back pain was developed by Dr. Stuart McGill and is known as the ‘McGill Big 3’. This program focuses on global muscle stabilization and coordination without adding any extra load to the back. A nice feature of this program is that each exercise has variations to allow for a graded increase in difficulty as symptoms decrease and strength increases. Let’s check out each of the exercises.

  • Modified Curl Up

Lie on your back with one leg straight out and the other bent with the foot flat on the ground. Place your hands in the arch between your lower back and the floor. Tuck in your chin and slowly lift your head, neck and shoulders together off the floor and hold for 10 seconds, tightening your abdominal muscles throughout, then lower back down to the start position. Do the second half of the repetitions with your legs switched.

  • Side Bridge

Lie on your side with a straight spine. Bend your knees to 90° with feet stacked and place your forearm on the ground with your elbow stacked under your shoulder. Your other arm can be placed along your side to help with stabilization. Press up from the ground and brace your core muscles, ensuring your spine is still in a neutral position. Hold this position for 10 seconds and ensure your breathing is normal throughout, then lower back down to the starting position.

  • Bird Dog

Kneel on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Ensure your back is flat and core muscles are engaged. From this position, slowly raise one leg and the opposite arm straight out from your body until they are horizontal with the floor. Hold for 10 seconds. Keep your hips and shoulders square with your body throughout. Slowly lower back down to the starting position then repeat with the other leg and arm.


Having back pain and looking to learn about the McGill Big 3? Call us today to book an appointment or book online!

Want to learn more? Check out our post about the two kinds of stretches!