Three Tests To Determine Low Back Health

How to Test Your Low Back Health

When designing a program, it’s important to have a starting point.  Lucky for us, there is a set of tests, backed by clinical research, that help us determine the health of our low back. These tests were designed by low back specialist Dr. Stuart McGill and used to determine the relative risk for a low back injury in the general population. Performing the tests is easy, all you need is a partner and way to measure time (in seconds). 

Note: If any of these tests cause pain. Discontinue immediately.


Test #1: Sorenson Test for Low Back Endurance

            How to perform: Requires table or bench

  • Position with front two hip bones at end of the table, with trunk hanging off
  • Partner holds legs flat against table (or strapped down)
  • Start timer as you raise trunk to be in line with lower body(bring hands to side)
  • Maintains horizontal position as long as possible.
  • Time up to 240 seconds
  • End test when you lose horizontal position

What’s Healthy? Numbers have varied in each clinical trial and also depend on age and gender. For our sake, a healthy back should be able to hold for a minimum of 180 seconds

Test # 2: Trunk Flexor Endurance Test

           How to Perform (Easier with a foam wedge or other prop, but not necessary)

  • Both knees and hips flexed to 90
  • Arms folded across chest
  • Toes anchored by strap (or partner)
  • Perform sit up until trunk is 50 degrees from floor and hold
  • End test when you lose position

What’s Healthy? A healthy back should be able to hold for at least 134 seconds

Test #3: Side Bridge

            How to perform:

  • Lay on side supported by pelvis, legs, and forearm
  • Top leg placed in front of lower leg (both on floor)
  • Raise pelvis off floor (or table)
  • Maintain Elevated position for as long as you can
  • End test when thigh hits floor

What’s Healthy? A healthy back should be able to hold for at least 84 seconds on each side. Any major differences side to side should be noted as well.

Setting benchmarks is important whether is be for a rehabilitation or fitness plan. Try these three tests out, don't be discouraged if you don't reach the baseline numbers, use it as motivation to improve.