The Big Three to Relieve Low Back Pain

Back pain plagues four out of five Canadians at some point throughout their lifespan. It can be quite debilitating, and affects basic tasks throughout your day. Often clients describe how their back pain started, perhaps by reaching down to grab something off the floor or by twisting and reaching. This is often the straw that broke the camels back, however the true problem likely started many years before. We are very good at creating compensations and moving to get away from a problem. Over time compensating can create more wear and tear somewhere else in the body. Therefore, it is essential to have a look at how people are moving as a whole while comparing their movement to the local pain and dysfunction. This comprehensive view will give a clear picture as to larger movement problems or compensations that may be contributing to the acute problem and pain.

Recently, on CBC radio, a story featured Stuart McGill’s Big Three exercises to relieve back pain. Clinically, I use these exercises very frequently, even for people that may be having shoulder pain or even knee or ankle pain. If our core and centre are weak, we will be moving from an unstable base. Our body will be constantly working harder just to perform basic tasks, for example carrying our children, our groceries, or walking up the stairs. Here is a description of each of the Big Three exercises.

The Big Three

Side plank

Laying on your side, with your elbow underneath your shoulder and your feet stacked on each other, lift your hips up so to create a straight line with your body. Try not to roll your hips backwards or let your weight fall through your arm.



Modified curl up

Laying on your back with one knee bent and one knee straight, place your hands under the small of you back (palms down). Raise your head and shoulders 1 cm off the ground. Do not flex or round as you raise up. Try to keep your chin tucked (make a double chin).




Bird Dog

On your hands and knees, with your hands under your shoulders, and knees under your hips, slowly extend out an arm and the opposite leg. The goal is to try and maintain a neutral spine and to not move your hips from side to side or let them twist or tilt. Often, I will have someone start with just moving an arm or a leg, then progress to the more dynamic arm and leg at the same time.




If you would like to listen to the famous (in the physio world!) Stu McGill here’s the CBC clip: