Get relief with back pain exercises


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Many people believe that rest is best for a painful back, but actually, what your back really needs when it’s hurt is exercise. Regular exercise relieves back pain by strengthening and stretching the muscles that support the spine and helps to prevent future injury. This is a use it or lose it situation: the more you rest, the weaker your back gets, even if it is hurt. Studies have actually shown that you can heal your back pain faster and get back to your regular activities with just two days of rest. So let’s look at some of the best exercises for relieving back pain.

A good, regular yoga practice will go far in relieving the stress and tension that sometimes cause mild back pain, and in fact, studies have shown that yoga is the number one most effective exercise for relieving back pain.

However, not all yoga poses relieve back pain, and some can in fact aggravate existing pain, so it is important to know which poses will be most helpful in relieving back pain. It is best to do these exercises under the supervision of a certified yoga instructor, and if you encounter any problems with these poses, you should consult an expert.

Even just one or two sessions with a yoga instructor can help, as an instructor will help you with your form and posture during poses. Here are some of the best yoga poses for relieving back pain. Each pose should be held from five to ten seconds, depending upon your level of comfort, and should be done on a mat or other soft, supportive surface.

CORPSE: Lie flat on your back in a relaxed position, arms resting at your sides, palms down, and legs lying naturally, with knees turned out slightly. If it hurts your back to have your knees turned outward, do this pose with knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Breathe in and out for a few seconds while allowing any tension to leave the body.

CAT STRETCH: Start out on your hands and knees with a flat back. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders with fingers spread. Knees should be directly under the hips. Head is held loosely so that you are looking at the floor between your hands. Inhale, and as you exhale, arch your back toward the ceiling, tuck your chin in to your chest so that you are looking at your navel, and tuck your tailbone underneath. Hold, then release back into your original position.

WIND-RELEASING POSE: Lie flat on your back as in Corpse pose. As you inhale, bend your knee, place your hands right below the knee, and draw your leg towards your chest. Your left leg should remain flat on the floor. Exhale and bring your forehead up to touch your knee. Inhale, and then as you exhale, return to your original position. Repeat with the other leg.

SAGE TWIST: Warning for this pose-it involves twisting your back, so you should take particular care not to twist too far or you risk aggravating any existing back pain. This should be a gentle stretch; twist just as far as is comfortable.

Sit on the floor with both legs out in front of you. Bend your right knee, lift your right leg over your left, and place your right foot on the floor next to your left knee. Sitting with spine straight, place your left elbow on the right side of your right knee. Bend your left arm so that your left fingertips are touching your right hip, while at the same time, twisting to look over your right shoulder. This is where you need to be careful not to twist too far. Hold for a few seconds, release, and repeat on the opposite side.

PALM TREE: Stand with feet facing forward, arms at your sides, weight distributed evenly on both feet. Raise both arms over your head, interlock your fingers, and turn your hands so that your palms are facing upward. Next, place your palms on your head and turn your head so that you are looking slightly upward.

Stretch your arms upwards, and at the same time, come up onto your toes if you can do so without pain. Stretch your entire body upward and hold, if you can. Some people have difficulty balancing during this pose, so just do the stretching parts if you need to.

FISH POSE: Lie on your back with knees bent and arms at your side. Arch your back as far as you comfortably can and raise it off the ground by pushing the floor with your elbows. If you can, tilt your head backwards and rest the crown of your head on the floor. Breathe deeply from the diaphragm and hold pose for one minute if you can.

LOCUST: Lie face down with arms at the side, palms down, and elbows slightly bent with fingers pointing towards the feet. Raise your legs and thighs as high off the ground as possible without causing your back any pain. Hold for one second and repeat up to twelve times. This can be a vigorous exercise so you must take care to strain already injured muscles.

BENDING FORWARD POSTURE: Stand up straight with feet together and arms hanging loosely along your sides. Breathe in deeply and raise your arms straight above your head. While breathing out, bend forward and touch your toes if you can. If you can’t reach your toes, grab hold of your ankles or calves.

To complete the pose, you should touch your head to your knees, but this may be too difficult for many who suffer from lower back pain. Your movements during this pose should be smooth, not jerky.

Pilates Pilates is another great exercise for relieving back pain because it focuses on strengthening your core muscles, which include the back.

Pilates exercises are very smooth and controlled movements, so there is little danger of getting injured while exercising. It’s also a great way work on your strength and flexibility, both of which help to alleviate back pain. However, as with yoga, you should avoid any extreme twisting or bending movements.

Also as with yoga, Pilates exercises should be done on a mat or other soft, supportive surface. One of the best benefits of Pilates is that it helps improve posture, a common cause of lower back pain.

Use common sense when doing Pilates; if exercises that arch your back hurt, don’t do those. Or if exercises that round your back hurt, do only the back arching ones.

The following Pilates exercises benefit the spine and are appropriate for beginners. Do each exercise slowly and smoothly, and repeat ten times if you can. The key to pilates is quality of exercise, not quantity; it is more important to do fewer exercises slowly and correctly than to do all ten repetitions quickly.

THE HUNDRED: Start by lying on your back with your legs either stretched out or bent at the knees, whichever is most comfortable. Raise your head and, if you can, your legs off the floor a few inches.

If this puts too much stress on your lower back, just raise your head and keep your feet on the floor with your knees bent. Try to keep your neck relaxed. Now extend your arms, and raise and lower them about two inches. While doing this, inhale for a count of five and exhale for a count of five.

SPINE STRETCH FORWARD: Sit with legs extended in front of you and slightly more than hip width apart and feet flexed. Inhale and pretend that you are hovering over an imaginary beach ball by leaning your upper body forward, arms extended, while rounding your back and pulling in your abdomen. Exhale as you sit back up slowly one vertebra at a time.

The ROLLUP: Begin by lying on your back, legs extended, and arms stretched above your head with your shoulders on the floor. Alternately, you may want to do this exercise with your feet on the floor, knees bent. Inhale and lift your arms toward the ceiling. Exhale and roll your torso forward, as if you are doing a full body sit-up. You should ideally roll into a sitting position, but if you can’t, just bring your torso as far off the mat as you comfortably can before returning to your starting position.

The SAW: Sit with your legs slightly wider than hip width, feet flexed. Your arms should be extended straight out to the side. Sit up very straight as if you are trying to touch the ceiling with the top of your head. Exhale; turn your body to the left, keeping your arms in line with your shoulders, and bend over as if your hand is going to saw off your little toe. Inhale, return slowly to your original position, and repeat on the other side.

SPINE TWIST: Sit with your legs slightly more than hip width apart and your arms extended out to the sides. Inhale, tighten your abs, and sit up very straight as if you are trying to touch your head to the ceiling. Now exhale and turn to the right as far as you comfortably can. This exercise is to increase your back mobility only, so do not stretch your back muscles. Inhale and return to your starting position. Repeat on the left side.

BALLERINA ARMS: Sit with legs crossed and spine straight, as if you were sitting against an imaginary wall. Bend the elbows at a 90-degree angle and pull the arms back so that the shoulder blades are touching. Next take your arms down so that the shoulder blades slide down the spine. Next raise the arms over the head as a ballerina would. Return arms to starting position.

Tai Chi
Tai chi is an ancient form of martial arts that is soft and slow, making it great for people who have back pain. The Taoist Tai Chi Society's Medical Advisers have documented that tai chi helps improve posture, reduce spinal degeneration, maintain flexibility of joints, improve balance, and increase strength and stability in the lower back. Everyone can benefit from tai chi; if you can’t do the exercises standing up, you can still do many of them while sitting in a chair.

Unlike yoga, tai chi requires extensive movement, but is less jarring to the joints than aerobic exercise. It’s almost impossible to describe how to do a tai chi movement correctly-you really need to see someone else doing it to understand. There are numerous videos you can check out if you’re interested, and some video stores offer free exercise video rentals. Libraries may have videos, too. The best way to learn tai chi, though, is from an instructor, and classes tend to be relatively inexpensive. Take a class or two just to learn the movements and you’ll be able to practice at home on your own.


Stretching is very important in relieving back pain for several reasons: 1) it improves your flexibility, which in turn allows your back to move through its natural range of motion painlessly, 2) it sends necessary nutrients to the tissue along the spine that keep your muscles from getting stiff and weak, and 3) it helps to prevent further injury to the back. Some of the above yoga and pilates exercises involve stretching, and listed below are a few more stretches that will benefit the back. There are a couple of things you should remember about stretching. First, you should not feel pain when you stretch. If you do, you have gone too far so ease up a little. Stretch only as far as you comfortably can, hold it for about ten seconds, and then slowly release the stretch.

And second, don’t bounce. Move smoothly and slowly. If you jerk or bounce your body, you’re likely to injure it.

HAMSTRING STRETCH: It might seem strange to stretch your leg to relieve back pain, but actually, the upper leg is important to the support of your lower back. Increase the flexibility of your upper leg and you’ll be helping your lower back. Some hamstring stretches put a lot of strain on the lower back so try this one: Lie on your back and bring your right knee towards your chest. Put a towel around your right foot, hold the two ends in each hand, and try to straighten the foot as far as you can.

Repeat with the left leg. When you an easily accomplish this, try some harder hamstring stretches:

1) Sit in a chair and place legs straight out in front of you resting on another chair. Try and touch toes.

2) Lie on the floor with the buttocks against the wall. Place the foot up against the wall and then try to push the knee straight one leg at a time, and

3) Bend over at the waist, with legs straight, and try to touch your toes. Hold this stretch.

LOWER BACK STRETCH: Lie face down on the floor with hands on each side of your head, elbows on the ground, and feet shoulder width apart. Slowly lift your body off the floor so that only your forearms and toes are supporting you. Contract your buttocks and extend your right arm straight out in front of you. Hold this position for ten seconds, and then switch arms.

Do the same with your legs; return your forearms to the floor and extend first your right and then your left legs straight out behind you. Work up to extending your right arm and left leg at the same time, holding for ten seconds, and then switching sides.

MIDDLE BACK STRETCH: Stand with feet shoulder width apart, arms extended out to your sides parallel to the floor, and knees slightly bent. Slowly twist to the right side until you feel the stretch in your back. Do not twist quickly or so far that you feel any pain in your back. Hold for ten seconds and then twist to the left side.

UPPER BACK STRETCH: Stand in the same position as with the middle back stretch. Interlock your fingers and extend your arms as far out in front of you as you can, palms turned away from your body. Keep your upper back relaxed and you will feel this stretch in your shoulder blade area.

Exercise Balls
One way to get a good stretch is with an exercise ball. Many people like these because you can stretch your back without straining it and other muscles. And like with pilates, exercise ball stretching helps strengthen your core muscles, including your back. If you are new to the exercise ball, chose one that is soft and not 100% inflated.

These are just a little bit easier to work on than hard balls. As with other stretches, do these exercise ball stretches slowly and smoothly, hold for about ten seconds (longer if you can), and repeat ten times.

BACK ARCH: Sit on the ball as if it is a chair. Walk your feet forward so that the ball rolls under your back until your rear end is on the ground. Place your hands behind your head and slowly push yourself back up so that you roll backwards over the ball.

BACK FLOOR PRESS: Lie on the floor with the ball under your knees and legs over it. Arms should be resting at your sides. Pull your belly button towards your spine and hold. Remember to keep the rest of your muscles relaxed. As you get more comfortable with this exercise, you can do it while lifting your arms a few inches off the floor, as in the pilates Hundred.

BALL SQUATS: Stand with ball between your back and a wall, with feet hip width apart. Keeping your back straight, bend knees until they at ninety degrees and thighs are parallel to the floor. The exercise ball will roll up your back. Hold and return to starting position.


Strengthening exercises are great for relieving back pain, as well as preventing future injury. Many of the above exercises will strengthen the back muscles, and here are a few more to incorporate into your exercise routine.

FRONT LYING CHEST LIFT: Lie on your stomach on the floor, interlace your fingers, and place your palms against the back of your head. If that causes pain, simply place your palms on the floor on either side of your head. Now raise your chest up of the floor just a few inches and hold for five seconds. Work up to three sets of eight repetitions.

DOUBLE KNEES TO CHEST: Lie on your back, arms to your side and legs extended. Bring both knees in to your chest, grasping your legs behind the knees. Hold and repeat.

PELVIC TILT: Lie on your back, feet flat on the floor with knees bent. Press down with your feet and push your pelvis upward. Hold and repeat.

STOMACH LEG LIFTS: Lie on your stomach, palms on the floor supporting your chin. Press your pelvis to the floor and lift both legs off the ground a few inches. Hold and repeat.

CURL UPS: Lie on your back, hands behind your head, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Curl up, lifting your face toward the ceiling, until your shoulders are a few inches above the ground. Hold and repeat.

OBLIQUE CURL UPS: Start out the same was as curl ups, but roll your knees to the right side and then curl up. Repeat on left side.

Aerobic Exercise
If you go to a physical therapist for back pain, chances are you will have to do some kind of aerobic exercise as part of your treatment. Even if you don’t seek therapy for your back, it’s still a good idea to incorporate aerobic exercise into your back pain treatment plan.

For those who suffer from back pain, the best aerobic exercises are low impact. These include swimming, walking, water aerobics, and bicycling. Running and aerobic dance should be avoided as these jar the body and are too hard on already injured muscles and joints. There are even videos featuring non impact aerobics, which can be great for those suffering from debilitating back pain.

Not only does aerobic exercise benefit your body, but it also benefits your mind: aerobic exercise has been shown to improve moods, decrease depression, and increase the tolerance for pain.

If you haven’t exercised regularly in the past, you should start out slowly. Just walk two or three blocks or swim one lap, and gradually increase your pace and distance. Any exercise at all is much better than none. You should eventually work up to a regular schedule of twenty to forty minutes of exercise three to five times per week.

An added bonus is the release of endorphins that occurs with thirty minutes or more of aerobic exercise. Posture is very important in easing the strain on your back. If you chose to walk, stand up straight without slouching. Keep your back arched slightly and abdominal muscles pulled in. If you bicycle, adjust the peddles and handle bars so that you an sit up straight.

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