Exercises for back pain

Learn some simple exercises to ease your back pain

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BSc in Health Studies, Dip.Nut
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An introduction to exercises for back pain

Back pain is a common condition which can be very disabling. Pain experienced can be very intense and debilitating, or for others, constant and chronic. People can go through long periods without any pain in the back, only to be crippled by sudden, acute episodes of pain.

Improving the strength and flexibility of the back and the rest of the body can help reduce the chances of these episodes occurring. There are back pain exercises for you to try when you are well and relatively free from pain. Some rules:

  • Don’t try to do too much too quickly
  • Be gentle with yourself whilst you exercise
  • At the first sign of any muscle or joint stiffness, or pain, stop the exercise

Exercises for lower back pain

Lower back pain is the most common type of back pain and it is often caused by prolonged bad posture. Exercises will loosen any muscles which have become tight or inflamed in order to ease your pain.

Lie flat on the floor on your back with your arms in a comfortable position alongside the body:

  • Bend your right knee and pull it up as far as you can towards your nose. Stretch the whole leg and lower it again. Repeat with the left leg
  • Do the same exercise with both legs at the same time
  • Bend your knees and place both feet flat on the floor. Spread your knees and then close them again
  • Lift your right leg as near a vertical position as possible then lower it slowly. Repeat with the left leg
  • Bend your knees and place both feet flat on the floor. Stretch your arms sideways at an angle of 90 degrees. Keep both knees together and let them fall first to the left and then to the right – you should be twisting around your waist, whilst still on your back, allowing each hip to rise off the floor, but with shoulders remaining flat on the floor
  • Repeat the whole exercise

Kneel on all fours with your back as straight as possible. Your knees should be under your hips and your hands under your shoulders:

  • Maintaining the natural curve of the spine, slowly bring your bottom back, to sit on or over your heels. Hold the stretch for five seconds then return to original position
  • Lift and extend one leg behind you, keeping your hips level. Hold for five seconds then return to the kneeling position. Lift and extend the other leg for five seconds then return your leg. Once you feel stable and comfortable performing this exercise, you can also lift and extend the opposite arm at the same time as the leg, still keeping your back straight.
  • Lower your body so that you are lying on your stomach with your upper body propped up by your elbows. Push your hands into the ground so that your upper body begins to rise and you feel your stomach muscles stretching as you arch backwards. Hold for five seconds then return to the original position.
  • Repeat the whole exercise several times, and when you are comfortable with it, you can increase the time that you hold the stretches.

Exercises for upper back pain

Those experiencing upper back pain can benefit from similar exercises. Start by standing facing a large empty wall. Your feet should be a shoulder width apart:

  • Place your hands flat against the wall slightly above your head. Lean forward towards the wall until you feel a stretch in your upper back and hold the position for ten seconds. Push your hands into the wall and return to the original position.
  • Turn around so that your back is against the wall. Without raising your chin, bring your head back to touch the wall. Hold this position for ten seconds before relaxing into starting position.
  • Slide down the wall so that you are sitting with your back against the wall and your feet stretched out in front of you. Your elbows and wrists should be by your side, also against the wall. Slowly slide your arms up the wall until they are above your head. Hold the stretch for ten seconds, and then slide your arms back to the original position by your side.
  • Repeat the exercises

Lie on your stomach on a firm surface:

  • Place a small towel or cushion under your chest. Stretch your arms out to the side with your thumbs facing the ceiling. Slowly raise your arms towards the ceiling, so that your shoulder blades are squeezed together. Hold this for ten seconds, then slowly bring your arms back to the floor.
  • Move the towel or cushion so that it is now under your forehead. Lie with your hands by your sides and your palms on the floor. Lift your hands slightly off the floor and turn your shoulders in so that your palms are facing out and your thumbs are up. Continue to look at the floor but raise your head slightly off the ground. Hold the position for ten seconds, then relax.
  • Repeat the exercise several times, and once you are comfortable with it, increase the duration that you hold the positions.

Other exercises

The exercises described above are to relieve specific types of back pain. However, generally keeping active will go a long way towards easing and preventing back pain. Exercises such as walking, swimming or other forms of aquatic exercise are particularly effective. It is worth taking the time to incorporate these types of exercise into your day, even if you are simply jumping off the bus a stop early and walking the rest of the way.

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