Reducing back pain can start at home with some simple exercises that focus not only on the back muscles themselves but also on the core and overall fitness. Here are 11 exercises to help reduce current back pain and prevent future injury.
Sometimes the cause of back pain may be misuse or overuse of the muscles in the back. Adding back strengthening exercises slowly can help gradually build strength and improve alignment along the spine to protect from future injury.
1. Bird dog
This pose is so named because the shape of this exercise resembles a hunting dog pointing at his prey. Start on hands and knees (hands directly below shoulders, knees directly below hips). Engage core muscles to prevent the back from sagging. Inhale and extend your right leg directly behind you. Exhale, then inhale your left arm straight in front of you. Stay here and breathe if balance is challenging, or exhale and bring your right knee to touch your left elbow directly beneath your torso. Inhale to re-extend. If you are extending and holding, hold for ten seconds then repeat on the other side. If you are bringing arm and leg to touch, do that three times and then repeat on the other side.
2. Bridge pose
Lie on your back with knees bent (you should be able to reach down your sides and touch your heels). Inhale and exhale completely, then on the next inhale, contract the glutes to raise your hips and torso off the ground. Head stays down, back of the head pressed firmly into the floor to maintain space between your cervical spine and the floor. Keep abdominal muscles tight to prevent overarching your back. Hold this for five breaths, then slowly lower down. Repeat three times.
Lie on your stomach, hands extended down your sides, palms facing down. On an inhale, use the strength of your back to lift head, torso, and legs up into the air. Hold for three breaths, then lower down. If you feel tightness in the low back, engage your core, stretch your tailbone down toward your heels, or lower down slightly.
When we think about back pain we don’t always consider the importance of the muscles in the front of our bodies. The core muscles of the abdomen help strengthen and support the long muscles of the back. There are many exercises that you can do to work these important muscles to help reduce or eliminate back pain.
4. Partial crunches
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Place your hands behind your head, elbows wide to the sides. Inhale deeply, and on the exhale, contract your abdominal muscles to lift your torso off the floor as far as you can without pain in the back or pointing your elbows forward. Do not pull on your neck. Inhale to release, exhale to contract. Repeat ten times.
Technically these strengthen both the front and back of the body, but when done regularly, the core will feel the most effect. High planks are basically a push-up position held in the “up” position (hands directly under shoulders, core engaged, and no sagging belly), and modified planks are with the forearms down on the ground. Either way, start by holding for 30 seconds, gradually working up to two minutes, two times a day.
6. Pelvic tilts
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Inhale deeply, and on the exhale, contract your core muscles to tilt your pelvis toward your belly. You will feel your low back press into the ground below. Hold the tilt with muscles contracted for ten seconds, breathing in and out smoothly. Repeat five to ten times.
7. Challenging core work: extended toe touch
Lie on your back with legs extended and arms out to the side in a T-shape. Inhale, then on an exhale, contract your core muscles to bring your left leg up and your right arm across your body to touch your toe. Repeat five times, following the breath, then switch sides. Do not try this if you feel sharp pain in the back. The key is to use your core muscles for the lift, and if you are not ready, your low back will take more pressure.
To reduce back pain safely, choose exercise that is low-impact for the best results. These two fit the bill.
Swimming is quite possibly the perfect exercise. Low-impact, full-body, and cardiovascular in nature, swimming exercises every muscle in the body at once. The water provides both support and resistance, and anyone of any fitness level can start wherever they are to gradually build strength and endurance.
Yoga is a full-body, full-mind program of stretching, strengthening, and lengthening that is easy to get into. It does not matter if you are not flexible when you begin; every pose can be modified to fit anyone’s injury and ability with the use of props and alternative poses.
These exercises strengthen and stretch hamstrings and glutes to help support the back.
10. Wall sits
Stand with your back against the wall. Keeping your torso in contact with the wall, slowly slide down the wall to come to a “seated” position with thighs parallel to the floor (don’t let your knee come past your ankle here. Walk your feet out as you slide down the wall). Breathe deeply as you hold this position for a ten count, then slide up the wall. Rest, then repeat five to ten times.
11. Hamstring stretch
Lie on your back with your legs extended, toes facing upwards. On an inhale, bring your right knee into your chest, and on an exhale, straighten that leg to the sky. Keep the outstretched leg on the ground as you gently pull the right leg toward you. Keep the knee of the raised leg bent if straightening it is too painful. Hold for ten seconds, then lower down and switch legs. Repeat several times on each side.
As with any exercise program, and especially if you are dealing with back pain caused by an injury, talk to your doctor before you begin.
Which exercises help reduce your back pain most effectively?
Image by Vivian Evans via Flickr