Back pain can make you want to sit down on the couch and cancel your gym membership — but don’t get too comfortable. Rest can actually make back pain worse. In contrast, gentle, intentional movement to stretch and strengthen the muscles in the back (and throughout the body) can help to assist the muscles as they perform everyday tasks like standing, lifting, and walking and ultimately relieve back pain.
If you have been experiencing back pain, try these different stretches and exercises to help your body out. They can all be performed at home (many on the floor!).
Dynamic Stretches to Prevent and Relieve Back Pain
Dynamic stretches bridge the gap between exercising and stretching. Instead of a still, “static” stretch, dynamic stretches involve movement. They help to ease the body into exercise by waking up the muscles.
Dynamic Neck Stretches
The neck is part of the spine, and easily becomes stiff after a day of texting and staring at a computer. Gently stretch the neck to loosen up the muscles and prevent pain throughout the upper back.
Start by gently shaking your head “no” a few times, then “yes” a few times. Sit or stand straight. Inhale, bringing your right ear toward your right shoulder. Exhale, tuck your chin into your chest. Inhale, bring your left ear toward your left shoulder. Exhale, tuck your chin into your chest. Repeat.
You might recognize this move from a Yoga class. It’s a great way to get the back stretching and the body moving.
Start by moving into a “tabletop” position, or “all-fours.” Place your hands underneath your shoulders and knees directly under your hips. Inhale, drop your belly, and lift your eyes to the sky. Move your shoulders away from your ears while you do so. On your exhale, reverse the motion: arch your back, tuck your chin into your chest, and push the Earth away. Continue to move through these two motions, matching your breath to your movement. Circle your hips, tuck your toes, or shake your head “yes” and “no” if that feels good!
Every part of your body is connected. Swinging your legs to warm up may not use your back and core, but it can seriously help to prevent tight leg muscles, which can help to prevent back pain. Tight quads and calves pull your pelvis down and increase the arch in your lower back. Keep these muscles loose to encourage proper posture.
Leg swings are as easy as they sound. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, next to something that you can hold. With your back straight, start to swing your leg forward. As the body warms up, you’ll be able to swing higher and use your full range of motion.
Exercises To Prevent and Relieve Back Pain
Now, the fun part: exercise!
Obtain good posture and lift more by strengthening the back extensor muscles. “Supermans” can help you do that with just a mat and your body.
Lie face-down on the mat, reaching your arms in front of you. Lift your hands and feet, keeping six inches between them. Reach a little higher, even trying to lift your belly off of the floor. Keep your neck extended and your eyes looking down to the floor. Hold for two rounds of breaths, then release.
Strengthening the glutes and hamstrings gives the quads less work to do. A simple bridge exercise can help to strengthen these lower muscles and also strengthen the core.
Lie on the ground with the soles of your feet planted on the floor. Extend your arms to your side and walk your feet in until your fingers make contact with your heels. Press your feet into the ground and squeeze your glutes, lifting your hips to the sky. Keep your shoulders and arms planted on the ground. Hold for two rounds of breaths, then release.
A strong core supports your back and prevents pain. Good, old-fashioned curl-ups can help. Stay in the same starting position as the bridge exercise, but place your hands behind your head. Keeping the neck in line with the spine, squeeze the abdominal muscles and lift the head and shoulders two inches of the floor. Hold, then release.
Static Stretches to Prevent and Relieve Back Pain
As you start to cool down the body, ease into stillness with static stretches. Hold each stretch for five rounds of breaths.
Lengthen the lower back by hugging one knee into your chest at a time. This is best performed while lying down on the ground. Hold for a few rounds of breaths, then switch sides.
Seated Forward Fold
This is another popular stretch in yoga. Sit up straight, extending your legs out in front of you. Continue to keep the back straight as you lean forward, aiming to bring your chest toward your knees. (Feel free to bend your knees or use a strap to assist you!) On your inhales, focus on lengthening the spine. On your exhales, fold a little deeper.
Don’t neglect your quads after your workout! Simply stretch your quad by standing up straight and bending one leg, bringing your foot toward your glute. Hold onto your foot, keeping your posture straight. Hold for two rounds of breaths, then release and repeat with the other leg.
If simple exercises and other changes are still causing serious issues, do not be afraid to reach out to spine experts for help.