Get relief with back pain exercises
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EXERCISES FOR BACK RELIEF
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
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
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
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
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 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
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.
with the left leg. When you an easily accomplish this, try some harder hamstring
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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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