The Big 3 Core Exercises for Back Pain

By: Dr. Ryan Tapp, PT, DPT, CCS

Just about everyone has experienced back pain at one point in their life or another. In fact, about 1 in every 10 Americans have had – or are currently experiencing – back pain. One of the most important components of reducing or preventing back pain is core strength. And not necessarily the 6-pack, beach bod core muscles that you have always envied on others, but the true core muscles that stabilize and control the spine at the segmental level. Probably even some muscles that you may have never heard of, like: multifidi, rotatores, and transverse abdominis. These muscles control your posture, move each individual vertebra, and provide your body with a built-in back brace. But sometimes, when these muscles get weak, other muscles have to double up on their jobs which can cause aches, pains, and strains. Whether you are currently dealing with back pain or not, performing these core strengthening exercises can vastly improve your chances of not experiencing back pain. The beauty of these exercises is that you don’t have to be a daily-gym-goer to complete them! No equipment is needed, and modifications can be made in order to challenge you effectively, but remain within reach.

Without further adieu…

1. Side Plank

  • While bracing the core muscles, assume the position on your elbows and feet. Be sure to keep a straight line from your head to your feet, not allowing the pelvis to drop toward the ground. To modify: instead of using your feet, bend your bottom leg and brace from your knee. To make more difficult, take the top leg away from the body into abduction of the hip. Perform 5-10 reps trying to hold for 10-20 seconds with good form on each side.

2. Abdominal Curl Up

  • This exercise is a variation on the traditional “ab crunch”. In the typical crunch, the hip flexors and rectus abdominis work as the primary muscles. In this variation, off-setting the pelvis with one leg up or one leg down (either one) and only lifting the head/shoulders up to the elbows, the deep core muscles really activate. This should be about 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions, as long as form stays consistent!

3. Bird Dog

  • The last exercise is called a “Bird Dog” (think of a Pointer or a bird-hunting dog). This exercise also has multiple variations. The simplest form begins with being on all fours with a neutral (straight) spine position. Here, you will straighten one arm at a time without allowing the back/shoulders to fall out of line. If this is too easy, move to legs only. Be sure to keep a straight line from the head to the foot without letting the pelvis or low back drop toward the ground. The final variation here is using alternate arms/legs. The picture shows L arm and R leg being extended at the same time. In this position, you are left with two points of contact, making it difficult to keep the pelvis and spine in a neutral position. Here, performing 2 rounds of 8-10 reps on each side should prove to be challenging.






Whether you are currently dealing with back pain or want to prevent it by developing a strong core, perform these exercises 3-4x/week and strengthen the internal back brace you have been provided with!


If your back pain is getting in the way of the life you want to live, or if you’re dealing with other pain, movement, or mobility issues of the musculoskeletal system, Body One PT experts are only a call or click away! We’re both locally owned and operated, with three convenient locations serving central Indianapolis: North Indy/Carmel, Fishers, and Zionsville. Back pain may be common; however, it’s also treatable. You can move better and feel better through PT! Call Body One today to get on the road to wellness.