When it comes to widespread ailments, lower back pain is probably the most common of musculoskeletal conditions. Regularly stretching and exercising your back is a wonderful way to prevent back pain! But make sure that when you exercise, you’re keeping your back supported and aligned, to avoid adding any additional stress to it.
Here are four exercises you’ve probably been doing wrong, along with a how-to guide on correcting form, relieving pain, and avoiding pressure on your spine. In all cases, stop immediately if you experience any sharp pain or discomfort which you feel is unnatural for your body.
Standing Toe Touches
This is perhaps the most common exercise that people try when their backs begin to hurt. Though there is a proper form to this type of stretch, it requires specific attention to form and is often performed improperly, which leads to even more strain on the spinal column and into the discs of the spine. In order to perform this stretch properly, try to follow these steps, and stop if you feel significant discomfort:
- Start with feet hip’s width apart, pressed firmly into the ground. Don’t lock your knees
- Begin with lowering your chin to your chest – Release, don’t push
- Roll through the upper, middle and lower spine sections, trying to focus on each vertebrae
- When you reach your lower back and hip joints, begin to fold at the hip instead of locking
- Breathe deeply and relax every muscle in your back
Remember: Touching your toes is not the goal. If you push yourself downward, you may cause injury. Instead, focus on your back releasing, and the muscles being allowed to stretch.
These are both a core exercise and a back exercise and can provide a great deal of strength to the muscles needed to support your spine. However, if you begin this exercise without sufficient core strength, it is highly likely that you will exercise improperly, focusing on the wrong muscle groups, or even injuring your back. Here’s how you can check on your progress and form in this exercise:
- Can you lift both legs from the ground in a controlled, even manner?
- Do you feel as though you can lift your legs without tensing your hip or quadricep muscles?
- Can you perform this movement without feeling pain in your lower back?
If you answered yes to the questions above, you are probably strong enough to begin this exercise, as long as you place your focus on using your core muscles. If you answered no, try these steps to build your strength:
- Lay flat on the ground, with your feet flat on the floor, knees bent at a comfortable angle
- Lift both feet off the floor, bringing your knees toward your chest, and bringing your shins to an angle parallel to the ground above your hips
- Using your hands to guide (don’t pull hard!), bring your knees into your chest, allowing your back muscles to relax towards the floor
- Repeat from the beginning, until your back feels released
Remember: You shouldn’t have to work very hard with this exercise, but it does exercise your core and stretch your back. If you feel pain or discomfort, try using one leg at a time. Always stop if you feel pain that is sharp or sudden.
Downward Dog Pose
This pose is a staple of beginning and intermediate yoga. If you’re familiar with the inverted position of Downward Dog, then you know how much it can stretch sore back muscles. But there’s a risk of you pushing your discs out of alignment and causing additional strain if your form is incorrect. Make sure you’re:
- Pressing down with your heels, and not pushing backward with your arms
- Continuing to breathe deeply and regularly, not holding your breath
- Releasing your back muscles, not tightening or clenching them
If you want to try this rigorous stretch, here’s how we suggest you begin:
- Stand with feet hip’s width apart, feet planted firmly. Don’t lock your knees
- Following the same process as touching your toes, lower your chin to your chest
- Gently roll through the upper, middle, and lower sections of your spine, attempting to articulate each vertebrae
- As you roll down, hinge slightly at the hip, and begin to walk your hands slowly in front of you
- Try to keep your heels on the ground. This stretches the hamstrings. If you’re new to the exercise, your heels will elevate slightly, but focusing on keeping them down is the ideal form
- Release your knees if needed in order to keep your back as flat as possible. Rounding your back minimizes the effect of this stretch
- To move out of the stretch, reverse the process, starting by walking your hands back towards your feet
Remember: Yoga poses are meant to be held over time and relaxed into. Don’t force your body to freeze in place, as this could result in pulled or tense musculature.
Standing Back Twist
This final exercise may seem simple, but could cause pain if done incorrectly. The idea is to gently twist your torso from side to side and loosen your lower and upper back muscles.
- Stand comfortably with arms by your sides, and feet spread slightly wider than hip’s width
- Raise your elbows to just below chest level
- Begin to rotate towards the left side, then push gently with your arms back towards the right
- As you establish a rhythm back and forth, resist the urge to throw your arms back and forth. Gentle exercise is much better for the body
- Breathe deeply, and relax your back muscles. Continue twisting at a pace that feels good for your body
There you have it! Now you know and how to perform four simple stretches for sore back muscles. As always, if you’re suffering from chronic or acute pain, be very careful to avoid additional injuries. If you decide to seek professional help for your back pain, contact us today and we would be happy to provide treatment for your pain!