Hi Hayley,
I'm a 26 year old woman.  About two years ago I fell down and ended up injuring my back.  The injury turned into a serious back spasm about a month after the fall.  I recovered from the spasm after a few weeks (the doctor gave me a muscle relaxant), but I've continued to have problems ever since then. My back bothers me constantly.

Anyway, my question is if there are any exercises I can do to help relieve back pain?  Right now I do either the treadmill or the elliptical about four days a week and I do light strength training with 3 lb hand weights.  It hasn't helped with my back problems though.  Any advice you could give would be great! Thanks!

The first thing I suggest you do is go see a health practitioner that will be able to better diagnose what exactly you injured when you fell.  Doctors are great but I suggest you make an appointment with a Physiotherapist or a Chiropractor and begin working with them. Drugs will mask the pain but you need to deal with what is causing the pain in order for it to go away.  It could be very simple as a mildly rotated Pelvis or it could be as serious as a bulging disk. My chiropractor, Dr. Todd Pelly, has put me on a program to help fix what is causing my pain and I have never felt better.  Although my back pain does not stem from an acute injury, pounding out miles on the pavement year after year has not been good for me.  I used to have to take pain medication frequently for my back but since I have been focused on my rehabilitation with my chiropractor and my physiotherapist, as well as my own stretching and rehabilitation work, I rarely reach for the Advil.

You most likely will need to work on strengthening your core as well, combined with stretching all of the muscles that surround your hips and pelvis. Try doing some of these stretches and do these 3 core exercises on a daily basis (once you have been cleared by your physiotherapist or chiropractor to begin a strength training program).

Front Plank
When you do the front plank there are 3 things you need to make sure you are doing
1 – Ensure there is a straight line that runs from your shoulders down to your heels (your butt should not be raised up into the air)
2 – Make sure your shoulder blades are tight and squeezed together so your upper back is flat and not rounded
3 – Maintain a neutral spine position making sure that there is no flexion or extension in your spine

Hold for 10 seconds, rest for 5 and repeat.  Start with 3 repetitions and work up to 6.

Side plank
When doing the side plank you want to stack your feet, maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your heels and most importantly, position your shoulder directly above your elbow.  Again, hold for 10 seconds, rest for 5 and repeat.  Start with 3 repetitions and work up to 6.

This one is my favourite, and it is way harder than it looks.  Start on all fours making sure your shoulders are directly over your hands and your hips directly over your knees.  Extend out 1 arm and the opposite leg and hold yourself still like a statue, ensuring that your spine remains stable.  You want to stabilize your body through your core muscles, not by bracing with your hand and knee.  Hold this position for 30 seconds, trying to keep your body as long as possible, then repeat on the other side.  Start with 1 set of 30 seconds on each side and work up to 2 or 3 sets.