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Which Exercises Are Good For Back Pain Rehab?

In this article we’ll be talking about one of the best exercises you can do at home for back pain, if you’re moving on through that rehabilitation process to effectively work on reducing that pain from home. Today is going to be all about marching bridges. This is a great exercise that you can do early on in a back pain rehab programme, it’s going to help you build dynamic core stability in a safe and effective way at the right time in that rehab process. We’re also going to cover some tips to make sure that you’re doing them correctly, and make sure we stay well clear of those all too common errors with this exercise.

One of the reasons we’ve only put these videos & articles together is to help you understand why this exercise is good in set circumstances. Bear in mind, we’re going to go through quite a lot of detail. Hopefully, you’ll find it really helpful.

Marching bridges for back pain

So what better way to start out than actually having the video playing just up above, so if you’re not sure how to do the exercise you can watch the video above! Now the easy way to do this, we’ve got our core engaged nice and tight, I always say pop your hands on that way. So you can actually feel the core engaging. The trick with this one is your core should be holding our spine stable as you lift your bum gently off the floor, and then switch from one leg to the other as you’re going through our repetitions. That is how you do the marching bridge. When you finish, simply slowly lower back down to the ground. And that is the exercise then now let’s get on to why and how this exercise is going to benefit you in this particular stage of rehabilitation. 

An easy and effective lower back pain exercise

I know this exercise actually looks remarkably easy. But you will be surprised especially depending on what stage of recovery you’re in, this one can often be a real challenge people because they just don’t have the stability, or the control of that section of the lumbar spine, that’s when you can get in trouble.

Now in many cases, when you’ve injured your lower back, it’s something going on down the bottom around L4, L5 & S1, maybe it’s the disk, maybe it’s some degeneration, maybe it’s facet problems, and what should be happening when we lift up off the ground during the marching bridge is the spine should be held completely steady. What all too often happens is that we don’t have the control. So when we start marching those legs, your pelvis is moving all over the shop, and you’re making things worse or aggravating the back.

Given the propensity for this to happen you’d be forgiven for wondering why is this exercise so good? Well, it’s very clear when we’re walking around, out and about on a daily basis. If we don’t have control for our core, then these sorts of wobbles take place and we injure ourself. With this exercise here, you’ve got a fraction of the body weight on that spine, it’s only really the pelvic region that’s in play. So the core is learning to stabilise a very subtle movement of the feet, swapping from one leg to the other in a very, very gentle way. That’s why it’s a safe exercise. That’s why we put this in that early stage of rehab, we can still get it wrong. But understand that if you can’t even lie on your back, and gently lift our bum off the floor without losing the stability of this spine. How on earth do you have the competence to do anything upright, that’s a really important one for you to bear in mind, and why this exercise needs to come at the right time in your rehab process.

A word of warning if you struggle with core engagement

We talked about how to hold your core in Back In Shape Phase one. So if you’re struggling to learn how to engage your core for the very first time, this exercise is probably a little bit advanced should definitely head over the Phase 1 and get a grip with your core engagement first, because if we can’t engage the core, we can’t really do any meaningful rehab effectively. So that’s probably the best place to start.

Why you need to build core engagement in a safe environment?

Marching bridges are really safely and a great way to teach you core stability as it’s teaching your body to be able to engage your core to protect the spine, because it’s when you do this exercise wrong, the spine starts moving and you “catch” things which can result in a sharp jolt with pain. That’s because you’re not controlling the core, you’re not controlling the stability of the spine. It also teaches us to start using that core section. With lower limb muscles, you’ve got those powerful glutes and hamstrings that are used to move us around on a daily basis and move those limbs and it’s teaching you to maintain stability in the face of changing forces coming from lower down in the body. 

What about sciatica, disc bulges or spine degeneration?

You might be thinking, well that’s all fine but i’ve got sciatica, a disc herniation or some other finding on MRI or X-Ray imaging. Can you do this exercise. In short, yes you can, you must. But the reality is, if you don’t adhere to good technique you’re body is going to tell you about it much sooner. As you’re learning the technique when you make some minor errors, you may well create a little bit of irritation of that area, most of that’s just going to be the way we change the pressure gradients in our spine. That puts more pressure on certain areas giving us a little bit of inflammatory buildup. But it’s not a dangerous exercise. That being said, if we’re doing it incorrectly, we’re going to know about it, especially if we’ve got more severe injury. So we’ve got to get the technique right.

Kicking your bum up too high gives back pain!

One of the big mistakes that people make is they kick up too high with their back, and they don’t have the strength to do so. And all of a sudden, they’re back arches. Now, if we’ve got any lower lumbar issues, we’re talking about the L5 S1 region, where the lumbar spine meets the sacrum. This is very common injury site, as we lose control that arches too much. At one point, it’s going to pressurise these facet joints. When we arch too much in the spine. As you close the holes that the nerves come out off, if there’s a little bit of inflammation in that area, doing the technique incorrectly will close that hole. It means that the information is occupying a greater percentage of the area, it puts more pressure on the nerve as we lose our control. And that’s when we get caught out. So make sure you avoid mistake number one and do not allow yourself to go too high.

Develop control over your core & spine

Mistake number two is not controlling the core properly. If we’re not controlling our core effectively, as we come up, or as we swap legs, we get this torsion occurring. If you’ve had that pain in the past, you’ll notice if you twist if you bend, if you move funny in any direction, it catches you out. And that’s where our core needs to come in, keep it engaged and hold this spine steady. Make sure you really pay attention to that.

You might be wondering why you can’t just do straight bridges? You can but that’s a very large motion. What we’re teaching you to do here with the marching bridges is come up and stabilise and hold. And then gently as we’re moving those legs we’re holding it steady with small corrections. That’s what we want to get you to control first, because if we can’t control the basics, then doing these large power moves could get you in trouble.

At this stage the correct timing of these exercises in a rehab protocol is so so important. Those other exercises generating power come a little bit later on. But this is really about control. And therefore the marching variation of the bridge is best. 

Too much movement is unnecessary for your back pain

The final mistakes that people make with marching bridges is because this is an exercise that’s done elsewhere. You’ll have seen it and other rehab programmes in different ways. Moving the legs too far, we’re focusing on the distribution of weight from one leg to the other. So just lifting your feet an inch off just so the weight comes off that leg is sufficient, we don’t need to bring the leg all the way up to 90 degrees. That’s not what this exercise is about.

This exercise is about slowly changing your weight from one leg to the other and back again, whilst maintaining a neutral controlled core. Without your spine moving.

Simple tips for more effective marching bridges

This exercise like all the other ones that we recommend. They are sensible exercises and they are safe exercises. If you struggle to do them, that is normally because you’re not able to do the technique correctly. Never doing them again doesn’t solve the problem. You need to work at it. And that’s when breaking these exercises down even more can really help you get a handle on them and slowly ease into them.

So that’s the big takeaway from this video. If you struggle with it, it’s because you can’t control your core. Not because this exercise isn’t for you or your conditions too severe. Too many people, over the years in clinic and in exercise programmes go through this process with all sorts of conditions. Some serious conditions, post surgery and some lesser and every single person will struggle to a different degree with different exercises, but the good thing about these sorts of exercises is they shine a spotlight on the area of your body that isn’t functioning correctly and is unable to. And the way we go through that is to rehab our back by approaching that head on and adjusting things slightly to make it a little bit easier.

Fore example, focus on just small movements, let’s start by only bringing that bum up, maybe a centimetre or an inch off the floor. Start with that to begin with, and then those gentle movements of the feet. Maybe you do that for your reps to begin with. And then slowly over time, you’re going to find that you can bring your bum up a little bit higher, whilst maintaining stability of the core. One centimetre can then turn into an inch, and then it’s three. That way, you’ll be able to slowly, over the course of a couple of days to a couple of weeks, build competence.

Remember, a lot of this will be down to the mental technique and the mental control with marching bridges. Later on comes the power element

This is a great exercise early on in your rehab process to learn how to engage and control the spine in a very safe environment, we’re not going to cause any trouble even if we get it a little bit wrong. But doing this exercise for the long term is just a little bit silly, we’re going to end up getting stuck doing the same thing, we don’t have the progression with this particular exercise that’s needed. And that’s where a proper programme comes in. Feeding exercises like the marching bridges in and then dropping them out is all about timing and progress. Now hopefully you’ve got a better understanding of this great exercise!

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