Low back injuries often restrict movement and may lead to the weakening of your lower back muscles.
Exercise balls are a great option for a gentle back mobility and core-strengthening program that can stabilize the muscles surrounding your spine, improve motion and help prevent future injury.
Exercise ball workouts can strengthen and mobilize your spine
An exercise ball is an unstable unit—when you sit on this ball or use it for a workout, the muscles that stabilize your spine are activated in order to keep you from falling or losing balance.1 These muscles typically include the superficial and deep groups that surround and support your spine. Activation of your spinal muscles can help strengthen and tone the muscle fibers, improving pain, stiffness, weakness, and function in your back.
1. Build up your core strength
Core strength refers to the body’s ability to position and move the torso and control the transmission of forces between the upper and lower extremities.2 An exercise ball workout helps activate muscle and nerve mechanisms in your abdomen and back. In turn, there is reduced stiffness, lesser fatigue, and improved strength in these muscle groups.3
Exercise ball plank
You can strengthen your core by performing the exercise ball plank:
- Position your forearms and elbows on the top of the ball with your feet on the ground.
- Your trunk and legs must be elevated and straight.
- While holding this position, tighten or brace your abdominal and lower back region to activate your core muscles.
- Make sure that your posture is correct: A straight line should be established from your shoulders through your hips to your ankles.
You can perform this exercise for a specific period, as tolerated, and gradually increase the time as you progress. Start at 3 sets of 25 seconds and work up to 1 minute in 10 to 15-second increments as tolerated.
2. Improve your spinal endurance
Stiffness of the muscles that brace your spine may reduce the stability of your spinal joints, which may cause your spine to buckle under heavy loads. Spinal stiffness in the core muscles and the associated spinal joints can also significantly limit spinal mobility. Exercise ball workouts help relieve muscle stiffness and improve spinal strength and endurance—preventing the spine from giving out when subject to sudden movements or stresses.3
Exercise ball spinal rotation
Gently improve your spinal mobility and endurance using an exercise ball in a simple spinal rotation-based exercise:
- Lie on your back and place your calves and feet on top of the ball.
- While using your core muscles and legs to control the ball, proceed to rotate the ball side to side in a range of motion that can be maintained successfully.
Perform 3 sets of 30 to 45 seconds of this activity.
3. Increase your spinal flexibility
When you have better core strength and spinal endurance, the flexibility of your spine is increased, allowing you to bend forward and backward more efficiently with lesser pain. Maintaining flexibility in the numerous core muscles is also critical in maintaining multidirectional spinal motion.
Modified child’s pose using an exercise ball
Here’s a stretch that involves using the exercise ball to enhance spinal flexibility based through a modification to the commonly used child’s pose:
- Kneel with the ball in front of you and one forearm on top of the ball (for example, your right) while tucking your opposite arm (left) through and under your trunk.
- Slowly sit back on your heels, as your forearm arm on top of the ball (right) reaches diagonally forward and bends your torso slightly to the side, as your other arm (left) continues to reach in under your trunk.
This exercise stretches multiple muscles, especially the latissimus dorsi and quadratus lumborum on the same side, both of which are commonly found to be stiff or tight core muscles. Perform this stretch 3 times per side, holding for 30 seconds during each repetition.
4. Enhance balance and posture
Muscle strength in your torso is important to maintain balance while standing, sitting, and walking. An exercise ball workout can help improve muscle strength and coordination in this region to increase balance, correct posture, improve gait, and reduce the risk of falls.4,5
30-minute sit on an exercise ball
Simply sitting on an exercise ball can help improve your posture and balance. It requires subtle, yet constant engagement from your core muscles to remain balanced and centered on the ball. When you first use an exercise ball, place your feet flat on the floor and just sit on it for about 30 minutes.
Beginners may have an easier time balancing on an exercise ball that’s slightly deflated.
Make exercise ball workouts a part of your daily routine
One of the simplest ways to incorporate an exercise ball workout into your routine is just to practice sitting on it. Sitting on the ball activates the core muscles required to maintain balance. If you are having trouble balancing, deflate the ball a little for added stability. If your balance feels good, try replacing your office chair with an exercise ball or sitting on the ball while watching television. Focus on sitting erect with your head and chest up and spine comfortably straight, while keeping your shoulders pulled back and slightly down (bringing the scapulae or shoulder blades closer together).
Once you feel comfortable on the ball, more advanced exercises, such as wall squats using the exercise ball can be tried, or some of the previously mentioned exercises.
See how to perform Wall Squats on Sports-health.com.
As with any exercise program, it is essential to consult your doctor or a licensed physical therapist before beginning the workout. Many exercise balls may come with their own set of exercises; attempting an advanced move before you are ready can lead to injury. A trained professional can give you a list of exercises tailored to your specific need(s) and can show you how to use the exercise ball properly.