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How do I do the windshield wipers exercise for back problems?

Rick Olderman
Physical Therapy
The windshield wipers exercise restores normal range of motion and motor control to the hip joint. It also develops lower abdominal strength to stabilize the pelvis during leg movements. Finally, it loosens and stretches the tensor fascia lata (TFL) and rectus femoris.

Part 1

Lie on your stomach with hands under your hip bones to monitor movement. Use a pillow under your hips if you have back pain in this position. Be sure your hips are level and you feel equal pressure in both hands. Keeping your thigh firmly on the floor, bend your knee so your foot is approximately above the knee (90 degrees of knee flexion). Stop if you feel your hip bones press down into your hands, your lower spine arches, or you feel pain in your lower back. If these compensations are occurring, then your hip muscles are tighter than your spine's ability to stabilize against their tension. Do not bend your knee further if any of these compensatory movements occur. Instead, lower your foot back down and draw your belly button in toward your spine, or exhale briskly to activate your abdominals while slowly bending the leg again. Stop at the point where any of the above compensations occur. See if you can move past that point without compromising your form. The goal is to bend your knee to 90 to 110 degrees without any compensations occurring in the pelvis or spine. Repeat on the other leg. Once you are successful, you can move on to Part 2 of this exercise, described below.

Part 2

Lie on your stomach with hands under your hip bones to monitor movement. Be sure your hips are level and you feel equal pressure in both hands. Use a pillow under your hips if you experience back pain in this position. Bend your left knee to approximately 90 degrees of flexion. While keeping steady pressure into the floor with your thigh, slowly rotate your left leg so your foot drifts to the outside. Stop if your right hip bone lifts off your right hand. Return and slowly move your left foot to the other direction, creating a "windshield wiper" motion with your lower leg. Stop if you feel the pressure change in either your right or left hip bone. At the point where your pelvis moves, exhale briskly to activate your lower abdominals and stabilize your pelvis. See if you can go further once it is stabilized. Rotating your foot across your midline (external rotation) will help stretch the TFL. Repeat on the right leg.
Fixing You: Back Pain: Self-Treatment for Sciatica, Bulging and Herniated Disks, Stenosis, Degenerative Disks, and other diagnoses.

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Fixing You: Back Pain: Self-Treatment for Sciatica, Bulging and Herniated Disks, Stenosis, Degenerative Disks, and other diagnoses.

Back pain is often due to larger problems, such as poor walking habits or pelvic muscle tightness , that create vulnerabilities in the spine. This is why most people have trouble fixing their...
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.