When we talk about back pain and back health, we’re talking about the spine, the curved series of 33 mostly-articulated bones separated by discs and surrounding the body’s nerve center – the spinal cord.
Ligaments help hold the bones together and muscles provide support and movement.
Almost all spinal problems initially begin with a loss of flexibility. Our bodies, and spines in particular, are designed for movement. The less flexible we are, the more stress the back is under; therefore, the more likely injury and breakdown.
Regular stretching of the muscles, tendons and ligaments that support the spine is critical to spinal health and reducing back pain. I am an advocate of functional stretching; that is, stretching in natural ways that involve everyday movements.
One of the best exercises for the whole body, not just the back, is walking. Regular walking, particularly on a mix of flat and uneven surfaces, strengthens lower body muscles, improves posture and builds aerobic capacity.
Here are five of the best dedicated stretches for developing flexibility and strength in the back:
Lie face down on the floor with your hands flat on the floor beside your shoulders, as if you’re about to do a push-up. Pointing your toes and extending your arms, lift your torso off the floor while keeping your pelvis down. Thrust your chest out, extend your neck and hold for 30 seconds, breathing throughout. This yoga pose flexes the lumbar spine and stretches the stomach, shoulders and chest.
Start on your hands and knees and then sit back so your bottom touches your heels. You’re your knees wide apart while touching your big toes together. While exhaling slide your hands forward and bow your head to the floor. Hold that for 30 seconds while breathing throughout. This yoga pose elongates the lumbar spine, opens the hips and stretches muscles in the shoulder capsule.
Lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, place your right ankle on your left leg above the knee. While exhaling, pull your left thigh slowly towards your chest, feeling the pull in your right hip and butt. Hold for 20 seconds while breathing, then switch legs. This stretches the piriformis, which attaches to the hip on one end and the sacrum on the other. When tight, the piriformis can cause serious spinal misalignment, pain, and pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Cat and Dog
Another pair of yoga poses in which you start on all fours and nod your head forward while pressing your middle back up while exhaling. Inhale while pulling your head up and pressing your middle back down. These poses flex and extend the muscles beside the thoracic spine,
Cross-leg Spinal Twist
To build flexibility, we need to stretch the muscles around the spine rotationally. Lying on your back with your knees bent and feel on the floor, stretch your arms out to the sides, palms upturned and extend your left leg. Keeping your butt and shoulders on the floor, exhale while rotating your right knee over the left side of your body. Hold that for 20 seconds while breathing and then switch legs. This stretches all the back muscles, gluteus muscles, and hips, and opens up the spine.
There are many other stretches and yoga poses that help improves flexibility and strength in the back. Find those that work best for you and keep doing them regularly, maintaining good form. They will help prevent back injury and accelerate healing.
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