The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimate 80% of adults will experience lower back pain at some time in their lives. Most is acute, lasting anywhere from 3 days to 12 weeks. Though many experience chronic back pain – pain that persists for over twelve weeks or longer. And the pain came come from any number of problems: torn muscles, herniated or ruptured discs, disc degeneration, radiculopathy, sciatica … the list goes on. And as we age, the likelihood of experiencing one or more of these problems increases.
That said, there are ways to either prevent or minimize the risk of lower back pain. As a registered personal trainer, I work with many clients on strengthening their core, posture, and keep pain to a minimum.
Here are 10 stretches and exercises you can do, in your own living room, to strengthen your core and reduce back pain. And they will only take about 15 minutes. (Please, always check with your health care professional before doing any new exercise program, especially if you’re getting over an injury, surgery, or other more severe back problems).
- Opposite arm and leg reach: Get on all fours and stretch your left arm straight out while you stretch your right leg straight back. Hold for five seconds. Repeat 10 – 15 times.
- Knee-to-chest: Lie down on your back, with feet flat on the ground. Pull one knee to your chest. Hold it. Do the same with the other knee. Repeat 10 times.
- Rotational stretch: Keeping your shoulders on the floor, roll your knees to one side and hold 10 seconds. Return to the middle and do the same on the other side. Repeat two or three times.
- Bridge stretch: Lie down on your back, with your knees bent and feet placed firmly on the floor. Keep your shoulders straight on the floor, tighten your abs and gluts, and pull your hips up to form a straight line from knees to shoulders.
- Oh-the-plank! It seems everybody is planking these days, and there’s good reason for it. It builds isometric strength, strengthens your core, and improves your posture. So much of back pain comes from bad posture. There are many, many ways to plank. (Even the sideways plank). So try one of these planks from the Mayo clinic.
- Superman! Lie on your stomach and stretch your hands far in front of you. Lift your hands and legs at the same time. Sustain for 10 seconds. Release. Then repeat.
- Tiger push-ups are a great way to stretch out tight muscles. Lie down on your stomach, hands next to shoulders. Push up, arching your back, and stretching your chin to the sky.
- Abdominal crunches are terrific for strengthening your core. Do not sit up all the way, instead raise your head and shoulders off the floor. Keep the strain off your neck by crossing your arms in front of your chest, instead of behind your neck. Hold for a few deep breaths and repeat.
- Cat stretch: Get on your hands and knees and straighten your back. Tighten your stomach and slowly curve your back, as if you were trying to touch the ceiling. Now let your back drop and droop in an arc, belly button toward the floor. Repeat several times. (You can also you a physioball to stretch your abdominals.)
- Roll your shoulders backward and forward. Stretch your neck, moving your head side-to-side. Inhale, exhale.
Stretching should never be painful. And you should never stretch “cold”. Muscles are tight, and you could end up doing more harm than good. Start with dynamic stretches that focus on movement, not a static lengthening of muscle. So begin your stretching regime by doing walking lunges, high knee jogs, swinging arms, to warm up your muscles. Then park it in front of the TV and go through 15 minutes of stretching to help alleviate and prevent back pain.