Back Mechanic: The Step-by-Step McGill Method to Fix Back Pain, by Stuart McGill, Ph.D., is an evidence-based, illustrated guide to self-treatment for low back pain, written for lay readers (about $35; there’s also a video-enhanced version). Dr. McGill is a professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, where he had a spine biomechanics lab and clinic for many years.
In his book, McGill recommends three basic exercises. Below are brief descriptions. You can get more details about them in his book and videos and also online—including here, here (video of McGill), and here (video). Proceed slowly, and stop if you feel any pain.
- Curl-up. Lie on your back on the floor with both hands (palms down) under the small of your back to maintain a neutral spine curvature; keeping one leg straight, bring the other leg up to bent position, with the foot planted in line with the knee of the extended leg. Slightly raise your head and shoulders, keeping neck straight; hold for 10 seconds, lower slowly, then repeat 5 times.
- Bird-dog (see photo above). On your hands and knees with back kept naturally aligned, lift and point with your left arm and right leg, keeping them parallel to the floor (not higher). Hold for 10 seconds, slowly lower arm and leg, repeat 5 times, then switch sides.
- Side bridge (or side plank). Lie on your right side facing sideways, with your knees bent at 90° (on top of each other). Using your right elbow for support, lift your torso and hips, forming a “bridge” from your elbow to your knees. Hold for 10 seconds, lower your torso, and repeat 3 times; then switch sides.
This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.