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.
A tight piriformis can cause sciatic pain. Lift both legs to a 90° angle. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh, place your hands under your left hamstring, and gently raise your left leg toward your chest. Hold for 30 seconds, lower your legs, return to starting position and repeat with the other leg.
11. Prone Spine
For the lower back and abdominals.
Lie on your right side with your hips, knees, and shoulders in line. Slightly bend both knees, then grasp your left shin with your left hand and pull gently toward your buttocks. Hold for 30 seconds, release, and repeat on the other side.
13. Quadruped Arm/Leg Raise
See this YouTube video for a demonstration of this whole-body stretch.
14. Side Plank
A great all-around stretch for balance and core and back muscles.
Lie on your back with legs straight. Raise your arms to shoulder level, perpendicular to your body, palms down. Lift your right leg off the floor to a 90° angle and slowly rotate it across the left leg while you turn your head to the right. Place your left hand on your bent knee and gently stretch for 20 seconds, allowing your back to move with your bent leg. Slowly return the right leg to the starting position and lower to the floor, then repeat with left leg.
16. Standing Hamstring
Stand with a low table or chair in front of you, about knee height. Place the heel of your right foot on the chair and slowly lean forward, keeping back straight in line with the hips. Extend your right hand toward your right foot and hold for 20 seconds. Return to starting position and switch legs.
17. Total Back
Stand behind a chair, table, or other sturdy object at arms’ length, at shoulder or slightly lower height. Put both hands on the chair, bend your knees slightly, and lean forward, allowing your butt to move back while your head drops in line with your spine until it is between your upper arms. Hold for several seconds, return to starting position, and repeat.
Stretching is exercise and requires a cool-down. Lie with your back flat on the floor, knees bent to prevent strain, hands resting at your sides. Take as much time as you like to breathe deeply, feeling the stress and pain release from your body.
images source: pillows.com