Back pain is the second most common reason people seek medical attention. When your back hurts, every movement is difficult and the tendency is to want to remain immobile to avoid pain. That’s the worst thing you can do, if you want to reduce back pain.
There are many causes of back pain, especially of the lower back: injury, athletic over-exertion, mechanical/physiological imperfections, emotional stress.
What has become the most common factor for back pain in North America is being overweight—the back holds everything together and if it’s carrying a lot of excess, there’s stress to the muscles, joints, and everything else.
An eleven-year study published in 2013 showed that for people with and without pre-existing lower back pain, those with a high Body Mass Index (BMI) were prone to develop it. (1) Part and parcel of a higher-than-necessary BMI is inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle.
If you experience back pain—regardless of weight and the level of regular exercise you engage in—simple stretching will help ease it. Keeping muscles loose, toned, and strong will enable your back to support the rest of your body. It may take weeks of regular stretching to reduce back pain but it’s well worth it to regain mobility.
Some General Tips for Stretching: (2)
- Do not stretch cold muscles—do a little warm-up first, whether a brisk walk, fifteen minutes on a bicycle, or some jumping jacks. Always stretch during and after a work-out to keep muscles from tightening and cramping.
- Wear comfortable clothes that won’t bind
- Stretching should be pain free; do not force the body into difficult positions
- Move into the stretch slowly and avoid bouncing, which may tear muscles
- Stretch on a clean, flat surface that is large enough to move freely—a yoga mat is great for this
- Hold stretches long enough (20-30 seconds) to allow muscles or joints to become loose
- Repeat the stretch, generally 5-10 times
- If you have any health issues, consult your healthcare provider before embarking on a new regimen
Below are some stretches you can employ that will reduce back pain and improve flexibility for your back. Keep in mind that everything in your body is connected; toning and strengthening the abdominal and pelvic muscles will also help take pressure off the back.
1. Bridge Pose
This is an excellent stretching exercise for your lower back to relieve pain.
2. Cat and Camel
A common yoga stretch, this will feel great to your lower back. Kneel on the floor with hands flat in front of you in line with your shoulders. Legs are at a 90° angle, toes on the floor, heels up. Keeping body weight on your hands and your back straight, inhale as you tighten abdominal muscles to raise your back in the middle so you look like a camel. Let your head hang forward to stretch neck muscles. Hold the stretch for several seconds, then exhale as you release and return to the starting position. Repeat 5 times.
3. Extension Exercise
Lie on your stomach and raise your torso with your arms at a 90° angle, elbows and hands palm-down on the floor. Press down on your hands until your back is as straight as you can make it, hips slightly raised off the floor. Hold for 3 seconds, then relax. Repeat 10 times.
A strong and toned butt helps the back and core.
Lie with legs bent and feet flat. Raise one leg to a 90° angle, keeping hips and back in contact with the floor. Place your hands under your raised leg above your knee, raise it toward your chest, and extend your leg with foot flexed. Pull hard enough to feel the stretch in your hamstring (muscles in the back of the thigh) but not so much that it hurts. Hold for 30 seconds, then slowly lower the leg to the floor and repeat with the other leg.
6. Hip Flexors
From a standing position, extend your right leg forward, in line with the shoulder. Kneel on your left leg with the arch of the left foot on the floor in line with the knee. With back straight, gently lean your hips forward with weight over the right knee until you feel a stretch in the pelvis. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs.
7. Knee to Chest
Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor. Bring one leg up to a 90° angle and grasp it below the knee. Slowly bring the raised leg toward your chest until you feel it pull. Hold for 20 seconds, slowly release your leg to the floor, then repeat with the other leg.
8. Partial Curl
Lie on the floor with knees bent and feet flat. Tighten your abdominal muscles, lower your chin to your chest, and extend your arms straight to the sides of your hips. Raise your shoulders off the floor until you feel the stretch, hold for 3 seconds, then slowly lower to the floor. Repeat 10 times.
9. Pelvic Tilt
This stretch strengthens your core to help support your back. Watch the video demonstration here, which also incorporates the bridge pose.