Back Pain – Simple Solutions
Four out of five adults will experience significant low back pain sometime during their lives. As you get older, the chances that you have or will experience back pain increase. Almost everyone develops “wear and tear” changes in their low back as they age, although for most people it causes little pain or loss of function. For some, the wear and tear can be severe. You can minimize back pain problems with exercises that make the muscles in your back, stomach, hips and thighs strong and flexible. Many people don’t realize that back problems can be due to a weakness in both the back and abdominal muscles. Running, biking, walking and swimming are all good activities to keep your back in shape. In addition to these activities, there are specific exercises that can help stretch and strengthen your back and surrounding muscles. These surrounding muscles often have as much of an impact on back pain as the back muscles do. For example, people who have low back pain tend to have tight hamstrings, and people with tight hamstrings tend to have low back pain. It is not known which develops first, but stretching the hamstrings regularly can decrease the intensity of back pain and decrease the chances of reoccurrence. In order to minimize further problems, maintain a good physical condition by exercising regularly, observe proper lifting and postural techniques, and lose weight if you are overweight. Here are some exercises you can do to both stretch and strengthen the back area.
Hamstring stretch: Standing, put one foot in front of you, toes up. With your hands in the small of your back (or one hand holding a chair for balance), bend the opposite knee and hip (not your lower back), until you feel the hamstrings stretch. The upper body comes forward at the hip. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then release. Repeat this stretch 5 times on each leg.
Full back release: Sit in a chair with your feet flat. Relax your shoulders and keep your head level. Relax your neck. Curl your neck, upper back and low back slowly forward. Allow your hands to reach the floor so your palms are touching the floor (or as close as possible). Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Straighten up slowly so that you bring your head up last. Return to the starting position. Repeat this stretch 5 times.
Back stretch: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on your bed or floor. Raise your knees toward your chest. Place both hands under your knees and gently pull your knees as close to your chest as possible. Do not raise your head. Do not straighten your legs as you lower them. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then release. Repeat this stretch 5 times.
Upper back stretch: Sit on a stool with your back flat against a wall. Lift your arms overhead, keeping your head and back flat against the wall. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Lower your hands to the starting position. Repeat this stretch 5 times.
Abdominal stretch: Lie flat on your back, arms fully extended over your head, legs fully extended on the floor. Stretch from your fingertips to your toes, lengthening the body in both directions. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then release. Repeat this stretch 5 times.Strength Training:
Abdominal Contraction: Lie on your back with knees bent and hands restingat your sides. Tighten abdominal muscles to squeeze ribs down toward your back.Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds (do not hold your breath), then release. Repeat this exercise 5 times.
Rocking Chair: Sit at the edge of a chair, arms straight out in front. Tighten stomach muscles to tilt the pelvis back (feel the small of the back flatten against the chair). Keeping your back straight, lean back until you feel the stomach muscles tighten. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds (do not hold your breath), then release. Repeat this exercise 5 times.
Arm-Leg Extension: On all fours, keep stomach muscles tight, lower back in a neutral position (not arched or flat) and raise your right leg and left arm simultaneously. Hold for a count of 5, then release. Repeat this exercise 5 times on each side (right leg, left arm/left leg, right arm).
Wall Slides: Leaning with your back against a wall, bend your knees 30°, sliding down the wall, then straighten up again. Move slowly and smoothly, using your hands on the wall for balance. Keep your feet and legs parallel, and do not allow your knees to go out over the toes. Repeat this exercise 5 times.
Leg Raises: Lie on your stomach with your chin relaxed on your hands. Tighten the muscles in one leg and raise it from the floor. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds, then release. Do the same with the other leg. Repeat this exercise 5 times.
Back Leg Lifts: Stand behind a chair with your hands resting on the back of the chair for balance. Lift one leg back and up while keeping the knee straight (not locked). Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds, then release. Repeat this exercise 5 times on each leg.
Heel Raises: Stand with weight even on both feet. Slowly raise heels up and hold for 5 to 10 seconds, feeling the contraction in the calf, then release. Repeat this exercise 5 times on each leg. Depending on your current level of activity and mobility, a good start is to do 3 stretching and 3 strengthening exercises, 3-4 times per week. You can also add in some cardiovascular activities (such as the recumbent bike or treadmill) during those sessions to strengthen your back and get your heart pumping. Stretching can be (and should be) done every day if possible to prevent stiffness and achy joints. These stretches can be done a few times a day if needed.
Another simple exercise that can be done to reduce tension along the hamstrings and lower back is to roll a tennis ball, bottle or can along the bottom of the feet. This can be done regularly while you are sitting at a desk or relaxing at home and research has found it to be very effective in relaxing the muscles along the back of the body.