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The End-All, Be-All Guide to Preventing Lower Back Pain

Because every dad should be able to toss his kids in the air without ending up in physical therapy.

Four out of five Americans live with lower back pain and, despite lower back stretches and exercises for lower back pain, true lower back pain relief is usually hard to come by. Meanwhile, your kids are growing up fast, and you simply cannot afford to miss out on this fleeting opportunity to toss, swing, and lift the little buggers over your head. Sure, your back aches when you lift them. But your heart aches when you can’t.

Reconciling these two realities presents a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. The most obvious fix is to get your weight under control (extra pounds mean extra stress on your back). But let’s assume that has been taken care of. What now? Experts agree that the next step is to strengthen the muscles and ligaments that support your spine. Think of your spine like a bridge, with dozens of support beams holding it in place. Back pain happens when you skimp on developing that support system. Here are exercises that might help:

What: Ab Twists

Why: It strengthens your core. Your lower back is comprised of five vertebrae that move in multiple directions as you bend, twist, reach, and turn and your abdominal muscles, of all things, form the counterpart to each of these movements. The stronger your abs, the better they’ll support your back.

How: From the “up” position of a sit-up, lower yourself midway to the floor, keeping your abdominal muscles contracted. Twist your torso to the right side, bringing your arms across your midsection to the right. Then twist to the left, allowing your arms to follow. Keep your abs contracted. Repeat 10 times.

What: Single Knee Hugs

Why: It stabilizes your pelvis which, in turn, holds your back upright.

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How: Lie on your back, knees bent. Raise one bent knee toward your chest, grasping it with both hands as you gently pull it closer to your body. Release the knee and place foot back on the floor as you pull opposite knee to chest. Go back and forth, alternating legs 20 times.

What: Bridges

Why: It builds your glutes. A stronger butt means your body has a power base to rely upon when it comes time to lift heavy objects (or toddlers), so there is less stress applied to your lower back.

How: Lie on your back, knees bent, feet close to your butt. Push through your heels and raise your hips, creating a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Hold for 10 counts, relax. Do 10 times.

What: Superman

Why: It develops your lower back muscles. Which, obviously, is good news for your back.

How: The aptly named exercise involves lying face-down, limbs extended, then using your back muscles to raise your feet, head, and arms off the floor a few inches. Do not overextend, as this can aggravate your back. Hold your body in a hovering position (like Superman flying) for a count of 10. Relax. Repeat five times.

3 Easy Lifestyle Changes to Ease Back Pain

  •   Change Sleep Positions. Lying on your back in bed can place additional stress on your spine. Switch to your side, and aim for a sort of fetal position. Place a pillow between your knees.
  •   Adjust Your Kid-Carrying Style. Try piggyback-style, or sling the little guy low against your hip to redistribute the extra weight in a way that places less stress on your lower spine.
  •   Switch Your Seating Situation. Hunching over your computer all day is a definite recipe for backaches. Forcing yourself to sit erect takes practice: Try it for 5, then 10, then 15 minutes at a time, or encourage good posture by sitting on inflatable gym balls in your home office.