If you don’t suffer from back pain, there’s a good chance that someone in your family or your workplace does. About 80% of the population will suffer from back pain during their active lives. In fact, back pain is one of the most common work-related injuries; it is the second leading cause of missed workdays after the common cold.

A typical response to experiencing back pain is to take it easy by either staying in bed or at least stopping any activity that is at all strenuous. While this approach is understandable and may even be recommended in the short term, when done for more than a day or two it can actually undermine healing. Instead, active forms of back exercises are almost always necessary to rehabilitate the spine and help alleviate back pain. Here are some that will actively help your back:

Cat Stretch

Kneel down with your hands under the shoulders and the knees under your hips. Spread the fingers out on the floor with palms flat and contract the abs to bring the head, neck and back in alignment. Slowly and smoothly tuck your hips under and raise the middle of your back as high as you can. Allow your head and neck to fall naturally between your arms. Try to create a gradual curve of your back towards the ceiling. Hold the raised position for 5 seconds, then lower yourself back to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.

This exercise tones and strengthens the body as a whole, but has a particularly beneficial effect on the back and abdominal muscles.

Lying supine hamstring stretch

Lie on your back. Place your left leg down with knee straight. Bend your right hip so your knee is pointing to the ceiling. Gently clasp your hands around right upper thigh. Keep your elbows straight while holding and straighten your right knee and move the foot toward the ceiling as much as is comfortable. Never stretch to the point that your hips begin to lift off the floor. You should feel a stretch on backside of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 2 times. Repeat the same stretch on your other leg.

This exercise stretches the hamstrings (muscles located in the back of your upper leg). The lower back is directly affected by the hamstrings. When the hamstrings are tight, the body will attempt to compensate by altering its posture when walking; which in long term can stress your lower back. Stretching out the hamstrings reduces the risk of injury, and can have a protective effect on the low back.

Partial curl

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Tighten your stomach muscles and flatten your back against the floor. Tuck your chin to your chest. With your hands stretched out in front of you, curl your upper body forward so that your shoulders raise completely off the floor. Breathe out as you come up. Hold this position for 3 seconds, then slowly lower yourself to the starting position. Relax. Repeat 10 times per set. Complete 3 sets. You can also keep your arms loosely crossed over your chest ot behind your head with elbows out to the side.

Prone hip extension

Lie on your stomach with your feet outstretched. Tighten up your buttocks muscles first and then lift one leg off the floor about 5-10 inches. Keep your knee straight. Hold this position for 5 seconds, then lower your leg and relax. Repeat with the opposite leg. Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions per leg. Be careful to keep your back flat and bend only at the hip while performing this exercise.

This exercise will strengthen your glutes and loosen your hips, which will take pressure off your lower back.

In addition to the exercises described above, research suggests that other low-impact exercise can be beneficial for maintaining a healthy, pain-free back. Good examples of such activities include:

Exercise balls have been around for awhile, but are gaining in popularity with health practitioners due to the many benefits derived from its use. Just simply sitting on the ball requires use of postural muscles. Therefore, a person can sit on an exercise ball while they are performing normal tasks such as using the computer and reading, all the while strengthening their spine. Simply bouncing up and down on the ball will help increase proprioceptive input to the spine. Proprioception is what helps keep your muscles coordinated and thereby promotes spinal stability. Current research demonstrates that increasing proprioceptive input can help reduce the likelihood of injuring an area.

Though back pain can be an incapacitating condition that often recurs, it can be managed and prevented: proper exercise technique and a few minutes each day may be all you need to successfully free yourself from back pain.

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