Good luck enjoying your day if you’re enduring back pain. Good luck working out. Good luck sleeping comfortably. Good luck even concentrating at work or staying cheerful on your slow commute home at the end of the day. Often stemming from other complications like stiff hamstrings, for example, or simply having bad posture, back pain is unequivocally debilitating. And no matter the cause of it, whether it’s a muscle strain, damaged disk, or spasms, the pain is all the same.
“Most back pain can be resolved by doing regular exercises to keep muscles that support your spine strong and flexible,” says Fei Jiang, PT, DPT, OCS, at Providence Saint John’s Health Center’s Performance Therapy in Santa Monica, California.
This is good news, as invasive surgeries aren’t necessary to alleviate chronic back pain. Supporting that theory, one study of a 12-week stretching regimen reported better back functioning, less pain, and a reduced need for pain medication.
“Stretching of the back and legs can help maintain or improve movement for everyday functions. For example, being limber will help you lift objects off the floor or put on shoes without increased stress to the back,” says Jiang. “Additionally, physical activity [like stretching] can help increase back resilience, so that one can perform more activities without increased pain.”
So what exactly are the best movements and stretches to alleviate back pain?
“This stretch helps improve the mobility of the spine while relaxing the muscles on the sides of the trunk,” says Jiang. It’s performed by lying with your shoulders as flat on the ground as possible. Starting with your knees bent is easiest, bringing your legs across your body while keeping your back and shoulders still flat on the ground.
This is easily the simplest movement or poses to perform. Starting on all fours with your feet under your butt, you’ll reach your arms forward and stretch headfirst toward the ground. You’ll definitely feel a stretch in your lower back and even your shoulders the further your arms are stretched in front of you and the closer your face is to the ground.
Another popular yoga pose, this movement is great for the mobility of the spine. Starting on all fours again, imagine each animal, arching your back up into the sky (like a camel) and then bringing it back down to mimic a cat stretching out.
“This stretch helps maintain mobility of the spine while strengthening the back and abdominal muscles,” says Jiang. And strengthening those abdominal muscles is important in this case, as many people often hurt their backs by misusing or simply not using their core muscles and instead putting unnecessary strain on the back.
Touching Your Toes
This is probably the most common movement or stretch that every person knows how to perform. Actually reaching your toes isn’t imperative, as many people simply don’t have the mobility to do so. But over time this can be achieved. It can be performed from a standing position, simply bending over to touch your toes, or from a seated position with one leg outstretched.