Stretches to Relieve Back Pain (Part One)
Part one of a four-part series on getting rid of back pain for good
Back pain is extremely common amongst people from all walks of life. There are many contributing factors to this epidemic, everything from sitting too long to arthritis and cancer. That being said, the American Chiropractic Association voices that most cases of back pain are mechanical rather than caused by extreme illness or injury. This is great news for the average person with back pain, as this means there is something you can do to relieve your symptoms. While you should always check with a health practitioner before starting a new exercise regimen, this four-part series will give you tools to shift your back pain from the comfort of your own home.
You can do this while sitting or standing, but make sure you are practicing this one often as we will build upon it later in the series. Find a comfortable position seated either cross-legged on the floor, or with your feet flat on the floor sitting on a bed or chair. Keep your spine erect and your back unsupported if you are able. If you are standing, make sure the weight is even between your feet.
Slowly tilt your pelvis back, like you are trying to point your tailbone to the back of the room. Then reverse by bringing your tailbone toward the front of the room. Move within a range of motion that feels safe for you, and feel free to support yourself with your hands on your thighs while seated to move your hips freely. Take care not to tuck too far when bringing your tailbone forward, as shortening the hip flexors too much can have the reverse effect. Deepen the stretch by allowing the head to tilt slightly back as your curve your tailbone back, then release your head forward when you curve your tailbone forward.
Having trouble sitting? Try this lying in bed, with your knees bent up and your feet flat on your bed. You can practice your pelvic tilts in this position. You’ll even get the added benefit of a stretch through your lower back just by bringing your knees up to a bent position!
Find yourself in the same seated position, or if you are standing move to a chair or to the floor. Leaving your legs where they are, gently turn your body to the right side of the room. You can hold onto your right knee with your left hand and reach your right hand back as far as you can. Challenge yourself by trying to look all the way to the back wall of the room over your right shoulder. Stay for three rounds of breathing, using the exhale to relax deeper into the position. If you feel a straining feeling in your neck or back, ease out of the position a little. This should be a pleasant stretch and should be felt mostly on the left side of your body and across your lower back. When you’ve finished your three rounds of breathing, do the same thing on the other side.
Still joining us from your bed? With your knees in that same bent position, drop the knees gently to the right. If it is causing you strain to hold them there, prop a pillow under your knees to allow for a gentle stretch of your lower back. After three rounds of breathing, gently drop your knees to the other side. If you are feeling at all unstable in your sacroiliac joint, use your hands to bring your knees back to the center before you twist, focus on engaging your core as you move, and be sure to support your knees with the pillow while in the twist.
Hip Flexor Stretch
This stretch is essential for releasing lower back pain, but it can also be very challenging to actually accomplish, especially if you have limited mobility. If you are able to stand and balance easily, shift your weight on to your left leg and support yourself with your hands on a wall or the back of your chair. Gently extend your right leg behind you as far as feels safe or until you feel a stretch in your hip flexor. Repeat on the other side. Challenge yourself by bending your back leg and bringing your heel toward your buttocks. You can grab that back foot with your hand to deepen the stretch.
You can also do this stretch laying in bed. Lay on your left side and bend your left leg to help stabilize you. Gently extend your right leg behind you to stretch your hip flexor. If you can safely try bending your right knee and bringing your heel toward your buttock, you can get a deeper stretch. Take care to transition safely between sides as you switch to your right side to stretch your left hip flexor.
*Bonus: Tennis Ball Release
This feels amazing but can also be quite strong if your back is tender. Standing up with your back against the wall, place a tennis ball between the wall and your back on a knot or a sore spot you’d like to release. Lean back against the wall to apply pressure, and breathe deeply into the place you are releasing. This feels fantastic for the upper back between the shoulder blades as well as the lower back. If you’d like to try this sitting down, depending on the type of chair you have you can apply a similar principle using the back of the chair as your “wall” or sitting on the ground up against the wall.
This can also feel great laying down, although you do end up with much more body weight adding pressure to the ball so it is actually stronger laying down than standing up. If laying on the floor, place the ball underneath your lower back, the spot right above your buttock on either the right or left side feels fantastic for a release. If you are on a bed, place a book under the ball so the ball doesn’t sink into the mattress.
Here are some precautions with this one, as this can be a very deep release. Be sure that you are focusing on one side of the body at a time rather than placing the ball directly on the spine. Also, if you know you suffer from sacroiliac instability, place a pillow under the opposite hip as you release each side to support the sacroiliac joint.
The most important note: be sure to breathe. We can release so much tension with a good exhale.
Use these stretches any time you are feeling stiff, but also try to incorporate them into your daily routine. We will expand upon these exercises in the next installments of the series, so do your homework and enjoy the lower back release.