Stretching to Relieve Back Pain

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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
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.

This article is part of Health and Fitness Solutions section on Back Pain Relief
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