If you suffer from chronic back pain, you might be inclined to avoid physical activity to avoid more pain. However, you might not be aware that certain activities and stretches can actually help your back pain. The right exercises can help to strengthen the back and the surrounding muscles, which can decrease stress on the back and allow for better mobility.
Exercises shouldn’t focus solely on the back muscles. Weakness and tightness in the neck, shoulders, hips, glutes, hamstrings, and abdominal muscles can also contribute to back pain. Let’s look at some helpful stretches and exercises for back pain.
1. Stretch the Neck and Shoulders
First, gently bend your head forward, bringing your chin toward your chest until you feel a stretch in the back of your neck. Then, gently bend your head to one side as if you are trying to touch your ear to your shoulder. You should feel a stretch down the side of your neck and the top of the shoulder. Repeat this stretch on the opposite side. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat 5-10 times.
2. Stretch the Back
Lie on your back and bring both knees into your chest, then flex your head forward until you feel a stretch. Then, lower both feet to the floor with your knees bent, and use both hands to pull one knee toward the chest; repeat with the opposite knee. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat 5-10 times.
3. Stretch the Hips and Glutes
Stand with your hips shoulder-width apart, take half a step back with your right foot, and bend your left knee, shifting your weight to your right hip. Bend forward, keeping the right leg straight, and reach down until you feel a stretch. Repeat on the opposite side. Then, lie on your back and cross one knee over the other. While keeping your legs crossed, use both hands to pull the lower knee in toward the chest; repeat on the opposite side. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat 5-10 times.
4. Stretch the Hamstrings
Bend forward at the waist, keeping the legs as straight as possible, and try to touch your toes. You can also try sitting on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Place a towel or exercise band behind one foot and use it to help you pull the leg up. Repeat with the other leg. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat 5-10 times.
5. Strengthen the Core
There are several exercises that can help to strengthen the core. Situps and crunches are a common way to strengthen the core muscles. You can also try pelvic tilts. Lie on the floor with your knees bent, and pull your navel in so that your lower back touches the floor. Do not use your buttocks or legs to help you. Hold for 5 seconds, and repeat 5-10 times. If lying on the floor is uncomfortable, try doing situps on an exercise ball. Yoga can also be helpful to strengthen the core, and has the added benefit of increasing flexibility throughout the body.
6. Do Low-Impact Cardio
You need to get your heart rate going, but high-impact exercises can be hard on the spine. Try walking briskly, either outdoors or on the treadmill. If you go to the gym, you can also try the stationary bicycle, elliptical machine, or step machine. These machines will help get your heart rate up without the jarring impact on your spine. Some patients also find water therapy to be helpful; the buoyancy of the water counteracts gravity, allowing you to feel “weightless.” Because of this, many find that exercises are easier and less painful while in the water.
You should consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. If any exercise becomes too painful, discontinue that exercise. The goal is to increase strength and flexibility, but don’t push yourself so far that you cause yourself more pain. Start slow and gradually increase repetitions, and you will begin to see results.