Back pain, specifically lower back pain, is the number one pain complaint from adults in the U.S. While some people have legitimate injuries, most often, back pain is due to our sedentary, seated lifestyles and made worse by overuse and muscle strain or injury. If experiencing pain, see your doctor, but understand that a lot of chronic back pain is not dangerous, and does not necessarily mean you need to rest. In fact, a lot of the pain and discomfort can be alleviated through physical activity.
Your spine is a series of joints, and like all joints, if you don't work your back through it's full range of motion on a consistent basis, you will eventually lose that range of motion and begin to stiffen.The cartilage in the joints of your spine absorb their nutrients through diffusion, soaking them up like a sponge. Moving and compressing the cartilage in the spine will not only ease pain but keep your spine healthy.
Those with ongoing back pain may find it takes weeks or months of consistent stretching and other back exercises to mobilize the spine and muscles, and counteract tightness and pain in the back and spine, plus legs and glutes, which play a large role in back pain as well. Yoga is great because it strengthens while you stretch, correcting both flexibility and weakness issues.
The perfect stretch for sore and achy backs, Cat/Cow works the entire back in both anterior and posterior directions and is easy to do for all fitness and mobility levels. The continuous motion of moving back and forth from Cat to Cow helps put your spine into a neutral position, relaxing the muscles and easing tension.
Start on all fours with your wrists directly under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips. To begin, move into Cat: on the inhale, pull the belly button into the spine and push the center of your back up to the ceiling while tucking your chin into your chest and tucking your tailbone under, rounding your back like a spooked cat. On the exhale, move into Cow: arch your back, dropping your tummy toward the floor while lifting your head and hips toward the ceiling, arching completely. Repeat 5 times, flowing smoothly from Cat on the inhale to Cow on the exhale.
Upward Facing Dog
This pose works to open up your chest, abs and hip flexors, while engaging and relieving pressure on the lower back.
Start lying on your stomach on the floor, feet together, with your palms facedown, figertips right near your arm pits, elbows tucked in like a cricket by your sides. To begin, press the tops of your feet into the floor and extend through the elbows to arch the back and lift the chest. Eventually, you will want your hips to leave the floor, with only your hands and the tops of your feet on contact with the ground. Hold the position for 5 breaths.
This stretch elongates the back, creating space between each vertebrae to encourage the absorption of healing nutrients and ease pain.
Start on all fours. Drop your butt so you are almost sitting on your heels, but hovering a bit, and walk your hands out in front of your until they are full extended, palms flat on the floor. Drop your forehead to the ground, but continue to walk your hands forward until you feel a stretch through the entirety of your back. Hold the position for 5 breaths. Bonus: to get a good side stretch from the lats down to the hip, take your left hand and place it over your right to increase the stretch through the left side of the body. Hold for 5 breaths then switch your hands to stretch down the right side.
The forward fold takes a two-pronged approach: it stretches the hamstrings and back muscles while providing a unparalleled release for tight, tense shoulders and neck.
To start, stand up straight with feet shoulder-width apart, knees loose, but not locked. As you exhale, fold at your waist and bend forward, reaching toward the floor until you feel resistance in the hamstring. Keeping the quads engaged to enhance the stretch, let you arms and head dangle heavy careful to have no tension above the waist. Hold for 5 breaths and very slowly and deliberately return to standing.
Seated Spine Twist
Do this in your office chair once an hour to keep loose and avoid back pain all day.
To start, sit up tall in your chain, feet flat on the floor, knees at a 90 degree angle. Keeping your back straight, slowly twist through your torso to the right, reaching your right hand behind you to grasp the chair. Gently pull with the right hand to deepen the stretch and hold for 5 breaths. Release, rotating back to center, then slowly twist, repeating on the left hand side. Repeat back and forth, holding each stretch for 5 breaths.
Kelly Turner is a fitness writer and contributor, personal trainer and social media and marketing consultant. If she's not in the gym or behind her computer, she's lost, so please call the police. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @KellyTurnerFit.