Have you ever suffered that sudden gasp of breath and paralyzed movement that sends you into panic mode when you’ve hurt your back? There’s nothing more debilitating than back pain. In fact, 31 million Americans experience low-back pain at any given time or one-half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year. Additionally, back pain is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office. It’s literally a pain!
However, most back pain can be simply managed with proper mechanics of posture and a balanced stretching and strengthening program. One of the most common reasons for back pain is tight hip flexors, which can be attributed to long hours of sitting or daily exercise of running, walking or riding a bike.
Why do we have Back Pain?
When a person is sitting, a muscle called the “psoas” is in a “relaxed” shortened position. It attaches in a very simple sense to the front vertrebrae in the lumbar spine and the leg bones. As the body becomes comfortable in the seated position, this muscle senses to stay shortened to maintain balance while sitting. However, when you stand up, the muscle still senses to stay short. It doesn’t automatically turn off or relax and the lower back gets tugged into an arched position. The brain senses balance of standing and pulls the head and upper body straight up leaving the lower back vertebrae in a squished arch.
Muscles shut off when an opposing muscle group takes over. For the “psoas” the butt or gluteals need to turn on to release this tension and simple stretching of this front of the thigh muscle can also help.
Here are the top five stretches and strengthening exercises one can do after sitting long periods of time to reduce the possibility of lower back pain.
5 Stretches and Strengthening Exercises for Back Pain
1. The Stand Tall
After sitting long periods of time, stand up tall and squeeze the bottom side slightly tucking under. Then slightly lift the rib cage and chin to find your tallest alignment.
2. Split Lunge Stretch
At least 2-3 times per day, stand in a split stance with front knee slightly bent and back leg extending heel pressing to the floor in a lunge like position. Be sure to turn the back foot inward 10-30 degrees. Lift arms upward and press hips forward. Hold for 10-15 seconds and feel the stretch in the front of the thigh. Repeat on the other side.
3. Teapot Stretch
This isn’t about tea time but rather the “little teapot” song. Start standing with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and place one arm out to the side and other hand on head with elbow bent. Leading with the straight arm, lean over to the side and press elbow up to the sky. Hold for 5-10 counts and repeat. The perform this on the other side. “Tip me over and pour me out!”
4. Bridge Up
Try this each morning and evening while in bed. This exercise helps strengthen the hamstrings and glutes or backside of the body to balance out the forward movement we primarily perform. Lie on your back with knees bent and heels under knees. Slowly lift the hips leading with the tailbone and pelvis tucking under until hips, knees, and shoulder are at a 45 degree angle from parallel. Hold for 10-30 seconds, lower to starting position and repeat 6-8 times.
5. Sexy Spine Stretch
This move can be performed after your Bridge Up. Lying on your back, stretch your arms out to the side in a “T” position. Lift right leg up towards the ceiling and stretch it across the body. Bring the leg back up to center and lower to bed. Repeat 8-10 repetitions alternating sides.
Back pain can be managed, but keep in mind pain lasting for more than 3-4 days should be assessed by a doctor. For more on managing back pain, visit www.andreametcalf.com.