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Back Pain Exercises and Stretches

Back pain exercises are the way to rehabilitate more quickly and more permanently from your back injury, and also provide an avenue to preventing a new injury. Even if you've never had back pain, and especially if you're getting up there, say more than 40 years old, you may want to consider instituting a regular back exercise program. As always, before trying any of these exercises, or in fact any exercise program you read here on my website, in a book, or anywhere else always always always consult your Physician. Your medical professional knows you better than anyone else and can provide you with the best available information on your own particular exercise needs.

General tips for your back exercise program

  • To start with, as remember the Physicians creed: first, do no harm. So with the above in mind, let's review some tips on keeping your back exercises safe, effective, and fun.
  • Plan your exercise ahead. It's best if you can exercise at the same time each day. If you tell yourself I will do this when I have the time, you will not do it. Believe me I know.
  • Dress properly. Loose comfortable clothing is a must.
  • Make sure that you have enough space to exercise in. That 6 foot by 3 foot area between the back of your desk chair in the front of your bookcase simply won't do. Leave yourself a space at least 10 feet by 8 feet to move around in.
  • Go slow. Whenever starting out with a new exercise program, always do less than you think you can do. Remember all of us have the same competition - the calendar. Don't let your own ego get in your way. The goal is to progress regularly and steadily until you get to your strength and flexibility targets, without hurting yourself.
  • This one can be a little controversial. Tell as many people as possible about your new program. Although this doesn't really do much for me, there is evidence that making your commitment public provides a kind of social accountability and increases the chances that you'll stick with it.
  • Try to find a training partner. Especially good is if it is someone you care about such as your spouse or a close friend of the same or opposite sex. Exercising to reduce low back pain can be inherently boring and having someone there to talk to and share the experience with is a plus both in terms of your attitude, and for overall motivation.
  • Sets and repetitions. I've set this program up as a series of exercises for back pain in menu form. This is so that you can pick and choose the ones that you think fit your situation and needs the best. You should be able to do these stretching and strengthening exercises in just 15 minutes a day. Having said that there is one thing that will apply to any exercise program for any person anywhere and anytime, and that is the concept of sets, repetitions and progression.
When you first start out, I recommend that you go through the entire list of exercises and perform each one a single time. Take a day off and then try going through your selection of exercises doing each one twice. Continue increasing reps until you get to the point where you feel that you're getting as good a workout as you need. Remember if all you do is four of these exercises three times twice a week, you are doing more than 90% of your friends and family. Once you're comfortable with regular exercise and stretching, you may want to set goals and see how strong and flexible you can become. I guarantee that if you take this path and work towards continually exercising, stretching and caring for your back in a dedicated informed manner, before too long your back pain will be a distant memory. Not only will you relieve low back pain today, you will reduce any chance of future disability from back pain.

Before doing back exercises... Things to watch out for during your back exercise program

  • If you feel in the numbness or muscle weakness especially in your groin or legs see a doctor.
  • This should go without saying but some of us especially men tend to want a fix things very quickly. If you're having a back problem now and experiencing pain, you will simply have to wait until the problem is resolved before you start your exercise program.
You should expect a little - and I want to emphasize a little - soreness or discomfort. Some of this will come from the fact that you'll be stretching and exercising muscles, tendons, and ligaments that you don't normally use. Some of that will come from a phenomenon known as DOMS. This stands for delayed onset muscle soreness. This is very common among people who work out regularly, and is simply the soreness that you feel 24 to 48 hours after a vigorous workout. After you've been exercising for awhile, say a few weeks you'll be able to distinguish between any sort of injury or strain and simple DOMS.

The back exercise program

The goal with this program is to both strengthen and stretch the muscles of your lower back and your abdomen. You should be able to put together a routine from the following exercises that takes no more than 15 minutes per day. Simply try each of them and keep the ones that seem to provide you with the most benefit and feel the best to you. Remember to include a mix of stretches and strengthening exercises for the best results, and to make sure that you target both your abdomen and your lower back.

Knee to chest

We'll start off with the single knee to chest stretch. Lay flat on your back on a comfortable surface and relax. Raise your left knee up while bending your leg at the knee and bring the knee as close to your chest as you can reasonably manage. Do not force it or strain. Lock your fingers together just under your knee and pull it slightly closer to your chest and hold. Stay in this position for 5 to 10 seconds and release. Repeat with the other knee.

Double knee to chest

Proceed as above, but hold both of your knees to your chest at the same time and lock your hands together below your knees if you can. If you can't quite reach that far, or don't have the flexibility yet don't worry. Simply place your hands on your calf below your knee and gently pull your knees towards your chest. While you're doing this it is a good idea to flatten your lower back against the floor and tilt your pelvis forward or in this case upward. This will give you the best possible stretch in your lower back.

The pelvic tilt

Lay flat on your back on a comfortable surface with the homes of your hands facing down. Slide your feet towards your booty until your knees are up in the air and your feet are flat on the floor. Flatten your lower back against the floor and move your pelvis upwards. The best way to make sure that you're performing this movement correctly is to picture a tennis ball resting on your crotch. Your goal is to get the tennis ball as high up off the floor as possible, while still keeping your lower back in contact with the floor.

The pelvic lift

Although it's got the same name nearly as a previous exercise the focus of the pelvic lift is to increase the strength of your gluteus maximus which is to say your booty. Lie flat on your back, on a comfortable surface. Bend your legs at the knee and then raise your hips very slowly while keeping your feet and shoulders stationary. At the apex of this movement, you should see a straight line leading from your knees to your upper back and rest of your body should be up off the floor. Don't beat yourself up if you can't achieve this first, everything takes time and preventing back pain is no exception. Hold this position for a count of 5 to 10 seconds and then very slowly lower your hips to the starting position.

Partial crunch

Lie flat on your back on a comfortable surface. Bend your legs at the knees so your feet are flat on the floor and cross your arms over your chest. Do not lock your hands underneath your neck. Cross them over your chest, but do not interlock your fingers. Now tighten your abdominal muscles and try to curl your shoulders forward so that they touch your hips. Obviously, this is impossible - but by keeping this picture in your mind you'll make sure that you perform this exercise properly. Remember you are not doing a sit up! We do not want to get your entire back up off the floor. We simply want to curl your shoulders up and towards your hips. Hold in this position with your abdominal muscles tight for 5 to 10 seconds and then slowly lower your shoulders back to the floor. Warning! Do not lock your hands together behind your head or neck to perform this exercise. This places undue strain on your neck vertebrae and could result in an injury. Forget all the videos you seen of Navy Seals doing thousands of sit-ups at a time with their hands locked behind their head. You're not a Navy Seal and you're not doing situps.

Stretch those hamstrings

Lie flat on your back with your legs about showroom with a part and one of your legs at the knee and left the other leg vertically until it is straight out in front of you and perpendicular to the floor. Now, the first and may not be able to do this and don't let that body and we'll have to start somewhere if you can place your hand behind the knee of the race leg and slowly pull it torture shoulders and. The nice trick if you can reach that far is to take a towel and wrap around your leg under the knee and use your hands to pull on the towel. Go slow and be very careful. Remember we're not trying to build Rome in a day. The idea is to very gradually gently and safely increase your range of movement and overall flexibility. When you've got the leg is for ports the vertical or if you're extremely flexible even pass the vertical and moving in the direction of your head hold it there for 5 to 10 seconds in and very slowly lower back to the floor. Repeat with the other leg.

Upward facing dog

Let's take one from the yoga people here, simply because it works so well. This is one of my favorite lower back stretching exercises. Lie flat on your stomach with your feet no more than shoulder width apart. Bring your arms to your side with your palms flat on the floor on either side of your head. Keeping your lower arms on the floor use your upper arms and shoulders to raise your body so that you're looking straight ahead. If you're having trouble picturing this think of the sphinx. That's what we're going for. Now try straightening your arms out a little. The goal is to have your hands on the floor and your arms straight. Your legs and your pelvis will still be on the floor and there will be a nice arch in your back from your booty to the back of your neck. As always, take a slow and easy and stay for 5 to 10 seconds in the end position before very slowly lowering yourself back to the beginning.

Cat and cat lift

This is another yoga back exercise. Start on your hands and knees, and arch your back upwards while tightening your abs and your buttocks. Let your head hang down between your upper arms. What we are going for is for your body between your shoulders and your hips to be shaped like an upside down U. And hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds and then relax. If you're up to it, you can try the other half of this movement. From the same starting position let your back relax completely. The goal here is for your upper body between your bookmarks and shoulders to form a lowercase u. If you're feeling particularly ambitious you can alternate the two movements. Obviously, this is a very short list when compared to the complete set of back exercises and stretches that are available. I've included these because they're easy to do, easy to learn and they should be achievable for most readers of this article.

I want to repeat here as I have over and over again on this website:

Do not start any new exercise program, therapy or treatment of any time without consulting with your doctor first. This website is for informational and entertainment purposes only. Information on this website is not a prescription for any one particular person. Your own health professional is the best source of information for your back injury rehabilitation.