There’s so much advice out there, some of it conflicting, when it comes to the right stretches. Some common suggestions, whilst giving a short term relief, can actually aggravate your back pain in the long term. We talked through this in a previous blog – “Do you get back pain?“. This gives some clarity on stretching advice.
To follow this we thought it would be useful to share 3 very simple exercises to help ease back pain. They may not seem like much, however they are specifically designed to help your body restore its correct curve at the base of the spine. This in turn allows the tension and strain within the muscles and ligaments to release, easing your back pain.
The first exercise is a restorative posture. The second and third gently restore movement between the vertebrae, improving circulation into the area for tissue repair and regeneration.
1- Restore the lower back curve:
This posture helps ease back pain by allowing the muscles of the lower back to ‘let go’. The position naturally takes away the compressive force of gravity and actually provides a gentle lengthening stretch to the supporting structures around the spine. These structures often become overactive in trying to stabilise a vulnerable spine. The reduced force to the lower back gives the muscles a safe opportunity to relax helping to ease your back pain.
Additionally, by reducing the compressive forces, the discs between each vertebra have more space allowing them to fill up with fluid again. They need to be nice and plump to do their job as a shock absorber and nutrition provider for the vertebrae.
Two options to achieve the restorative posture –
a – Lying on your back with your knees bent.
Place your feet a comfortable distance apart, normally hip width or just wider, so you feel stable.
Ensure your knees are bent enough so you don’t feel a pull in the base of your back.
b – Lie on your back and place your lower legs on a chair/stool or other appropriate surface so that you are able to have your hips and knees relaxed at right angles.
If the chair/surface you have available isn’t high enough to create the 90 degree angle at you hips and knees, use a cushion, towel or folded blanket on top to get the right angles.
Whilst in this position you can place a cushion or towel under your neck for comfort.
It is important for your neck to be in a a neutral position. This means it’s not being pushed forwards or tilting backwards. This also allows the joints and muscles down the whole length of your back to fully relax.
Use whatever you have around you to get the right amount of support. If you aren’t somewhere where there’s a pillow, a folded jumper or towel works just as well.
Points to remember when doing this restorative posture:
- Lie on a firm surface to provide good support ideally the floor or a firm bed.
- Place your hands on your stomach to stop any pull from tension around the shoulders
- Hold the position for a maximum of 15 minutes. When you have finished get up and walk around to prevent joint stiffness.
- During the posture do not lift or turn your head to one side or raise your arms up. Sorry that means no watching TV, reading, or turning to talk to someone. Lifting and turning the head and arms puts an uneven load the neck and upper back muscles. This creates tension that prevents full relaxation of the spine
- Be careful when getting up. To stand up again either roll onto your side, bend your knees and push your upper body up with your arms into a kneeling position, then stand. Alternatively, roll over on to your front so you can firstly come up onto your hands and knees and then carefully move to an upright position.
2 – Allow your tummy to hang loose!
This is another way to help relax the back muscles and restore the inward curve at the base of your back.
- Start on your hands and knees, with your elbows straight and our hands are under your shoulders and knees below your hips.
- Keep your head level with your spine and allow your stomach to slowly relax towards the floor as far down as it will comfortably go.
- Hold the position for up to 5 minutes before slowly coming back up.
This position means gravity lends a helping hand to create the inward curve into the lower back. As you are no longer asking the back muscles to keep you upright, they can switch off and relax, taking additional pressure off the lower back
3 – Gentle back movement to ease back pain
If your body gets the message that the back is in a fragile state, it will cause the muscles in the lower back to stiffen up to protect it. This tightening of the muscles can be the cause of your back pain. The following exercise gently and safely mobilises the joints between the vertebrae helping reduce muscle tension and improve movement.
Position yourself onto your hands and knees as with the last exercise. Your should feel balanced and stable with you knees under your hips and hands under your shoulders.
Slowly arch your back up towards the sky. At the same time allow your head to lower towards the floor. During the movement imagine the joints between every single vertebra moving. Allow your pelvis to move as well so you have movement throughout the length of your spine.
At the end of this movement, gently bring yourself back to the starting position.
Next slowly let your stomach drop towards the floor to increase the curve and the base of your back. At the same time lift your head to look up to the ceiling and open up the chest. Again try to encourage movement along the whole length of your back.
Repeat these two movements 8-10 times each way. Each time see if you can get a little more movement but be sure you don’t move into a position that causes you pain. This is a gentle, smooth movement of the whole back.
I hope these 3 postures/exercises help to ease your back pain and give you some relief from the demands of modern life.