Back pain and exercise
Feeling as lithe as a brick? Sorry to say, but almost all of us are going to suffer back pain in some form at some time. Slipped discs and muscle strains are joined by scoliosis (curvature) and stenosis (choking) of the upper or lower spine as we get older.
Bad backs are equally likely to be due to strains, caused by lifting heavy weights or inactivity such as sitting for long periods in one position in the office or in a car.
When you feel able, try the following exercises. They’re excellent for preventing recurrences (and many are exercises used by physios for bad backs):
5 lower back pain exercises
Lower back pain is fairly common and has a wide range of causes. Here are some exercises to ease this kind of back pain.
1. On your hands and knees, arch up your back, aiming to rock slightly back and forwards. This helps stretch the upper and lower back after periods of inactivity (why not try it when you get in from work?)
2. Staying on your hands and knees, raise your left arm and right leg so that they are straight, then bring them both underneath you so the elbow and knee almost touch. Repeat this for 30 seconds, rest, then do the same with the right arm and left leg.
3. Lying on your back with your legs bent and feet on the floor, raise one bent leg so the knee approaches your hands, then grab behind the knees and pull towards your torso. Repeat on the other side and then try with both legs.
4. Strangely, one of the best things you can do for a bad back is sit-ups. It’s counter-intuitive but the abdominal muscles oppose those of the lower back and when the latter get stronger, it causes the lower back to arch in an excessively concave fashion. Stronger abdominals will help pull that part of the torso straighter again.
Always start with bent legs and tuck your toes under the edge of a chair to provide a brace and lift the shoulders only (it isolates the abdominal muscles more). Once you have mastered this, lie on your back, then lift both your shoulders and straightened legs off the floor, balancing on your bottom, hands on your ears. Then pull both the legs in and torso up so the knees meet with the elbows. Don’t pull the head with your hands as you might strain your neck.
5. When come to the end of the exercises, finish off with some ‘Jane Fonda’ style twists by standing and looking behind you whilst twisting from the torso, alternating sides.
3 upper back pain exercises
Upper back pain is less common than lower back pain, but when it does strike it can be very debilitating. Here are some exercises to ease this type of back pain.
1. Whilst standing, squeeze your shoulder blades together so that it causes your shoulders to be drawn backwards. Hold for a count of 5 each time and repeat for one minute initially.
2. Starting with a can of beans or soup, bend forwards so that your forearm is resting on the arm of a chair or coffee table. Your torso should be roughly horizontal. With the can in your opposite hand, raise your free arm upwards and outwards, keeping it straight until the arm is parallel to the floor. Slowly lower the arm to your side again so that your arm is hanging vertically and repeat 10 times to begin with. Switch sides.
To make this harder, increase the weight in your hand or simply avoid dropping your arm to the vertical position, so its range movement is merely from the 8 o’clock position to 10 o’clock. You’ll be surprised what a difference this makes.
3. Lie tummy-down on your bed with your head and arms over the side or bottom end. Holding a tin of beans in each hand, raise them with straight arms until in front of you and hold for a count of three. Lower them back to just above the floor. Try to do this slowly for a minute.
Watch this video for some demonstrations of a few upper back pain exercises.
Try to do these exercises every other day, increasing the weight or repetitions weekly. They will most likely begin to help in around 2-3 weeks.
What else can you do?
It takes time to strengthen your muscles so pain will not ease immediately with these exercise. Make sure to stick with them though, as they will be beneficial in the long run.
In the meantime, try rubbing arnica gel into your sore muscles 2-4 time daily, especially in the morning and whenever pain is most severe.
You can also take an extract of Devil's Claw which is great for the relief of chronic back pain.