How to Alleviate Back Pain in 11 Simple Moves
Last Updated: Jun 15, 2017
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A bad back can be a royal pain in the … well, back. And it’s on the rise, whether because of using computers and mobile phones all day, carrying heavy “it” purses and cool messenger bags, or sitting in chairs for hours on end. Stave off back injury by maintaining your ideal weight and keeping both back and ab muscles strong, suggests Monika Paez, a certified personal trainer and nutritionist. Also, try rolling out on a foam roller, tennis ball or frozen water bottle to release muscle tension along pressure points in your back. If your back pain is stopping you from doing the things you love, basic strengthening and stretching exercises like these may help alleviate and keep it at bay.
Sandy Campanella, a personal trainer and owner of Sandy Campy Fitness in L.A. (SandyCampyFitness.com), suggests this easy one-minute stretch to loosen and massage your lower back. HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back and draw your knees to your chest. Place your hands on your knees and rotate them in a circle, massaging your lower back against the floor for at least 30 seconds. Reverse the circle for another 30 seconds or until your back feels looser.
Related: The Back Pain Health Center
What!? I got my own snack
Kristin McGee, a celebrity yoga and Pilates instructor in Manhattan (KristinMcGee.com), suggests starting with a basic stretch to instantly release tension in your back. HOW TO DO IT: Sit back on your heels and stretch your arms forward, relaxing your forehead to the floor. Feel your lower back, hips and waist lengthening as you tap into your deep breathing. Stay in the pose for eight to 10 breaths.
Cows grazing on a green field.
McGee recommends gently opening up your spine by alternately rounding and arching your back in what’s called Cat-Cow Pose. HOW TO DO IT: Come out of Child’s Pose into Tabletop Pose on your hands and knees. Breathing in, drop your belly and arch your back with your head and tailbone up toward the ceiling. Then breathe out as you round your back like a cat with your head and neck down. Repeat for several breaths, linking your inhalations and exhalations to the movement.
Related: The Best 8 Stretches to Beat Back Pain
McGee finishes the trio of exercises with Bird-Dog, a yoga move that gets its name from a hunting dog, to build strength in the abs and support your back. HOW TO DO IT: Staying on your hands and knees in Tabletop Pose, keep your back completely flat. Stretch the right arm forward and left leg straight back. Hold for a breath, then switch sides. Do five to eight repetitions on each side.
RECLINING PIGEON POSE
Alanna Zabel, author and founder of AZIAM Yoga in Buffalo, New York (Aziam.com), and the creator of Yoga Barre™, recommends the Reclining Pigeon Pose to relieve tension around the lower back, hips and legs caused by stress. HOW TO DO IT: Lying on your back, hug both knees to your chest. Cross your left foot over your right thigh. Thread your left hand through the gap between your thighs to clasp your right hand behind your thigh. Gently draw the right knee toward your right shoulder while keeping your back flat on the floor.
ASSISTED LEG RAISE
If you have a willing assistant, Paez recommends recruiting them to hold your legs in this pose for a minute to alleviate back pain and tension. No assistant, no problem: A yoga block works too. HOW TO DO IT: Lie flat on your back on the floor. Raise your legs slightly and rest them on a block, or have your partner hold them up. Stay like this for about one minute.
If your back is simply sore or tight and not damaged, a twist can help relieve the tension and improve flexibility. Campanella suggests doing this gentle twist once in the morning and again in the evening. HOW TO DO IT: Lie flat on your back. Extend your arms out on the floor at shoulder level with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Gently drop your knees to one side while keeping your shoulders and arms glued to the floor. Turn your head in the opposite direction from your legs. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
FULL BACK STRETCH
Athletes like tennis players and professionals like dentists who use one side more than the other can develop uneven posture. To test your posture, stand up straight and hold your hands out in front of you. Notice whether one hand reaches farther forward than the other in a natural stance. This gentle, scalable stretch can open the length of your back. HOW TO DO IT: Sit cross-legged. Walk your hands forward slowly, keeping hands even with each other. Take a deep breath and let it out, then walk your hands a little farther forward, deepening the stretch, keeping your spine straight. After a few breaths, slowly walk your hands back up. Try going deeper each day you perform this.
Related: 10 Common Workout Injuries and How to Avoid Them
CORE-STRENGTHENING PELVIC TILTS
To avoid recurring back pain, core-strengthening moves are key. “The torso is a combination of many muscle groups working together,” says Paez. “When you strengthen your abdominals, it often reduces the strain on the lower back.” Start with this simple pelvic tilt. HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Rotate your hips to press your lower back to the floor in a pelvic tilt. Hold for six to 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat for three sets of 10.
Plank pose is another terrific way to strengthen your abs and build support for your lower back. It’s also great for strengthening your neck, which can be easily strained by reading or typing. HOW TO DO IT: Place your wrists under your shoulders with your arms straight and fingers facing forward. Keep your legs and back straight, supporting your weight on your toes. If it’s too difficult at first, lower your knees to the floor while keeping your arms and back straight. Relax your shoulders away from your ears, keeping tension out of your neck and shoulders.
BREAK THE CHRONIC PAIN CYCLE
If back pain is a recurring problem for you, consider some alternative pain-management strategies. “We all experience and express pain differently. Some people don’t feel pain, but others are highly sensitive to it,” says Darla Forney, a registered kinesiotherapist. “Emotions, such as depression or anxiety, can affect chronic pain. For some of us the pain gate doesn’t close, even if the doctor can’t find anything wrong.” Cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis, meditation and other techniques can help change the way you experience pain to break a chronic-pain cycle.
PERSONALIZE YOUR ROUTINE
While any new exercise or routine can be intimidating when you have an injury or strain, an instructor, trainer, physical therapist or doctor can help personalize exercises to fit your body’s specific needs. Before trying any new class, speak with your instructor so they can modify the moves to reduce risk of further injury and maximize the benefits. “It is important to educate yourself about proper posture and be conscious of your posture in everyday tasks,” Campanella advises.
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