Stretches to Relieve Back Pain (Part Four)
Part four of a four-part series on getting rid of back pain for good
The culmination of this four-part series on relieving back pain focuses on stability in functional movement. The exercises you’ve learned in isolation will take you far in terms of strength and flexibility, but the key is to make sure that their benefits are integrating into daily movement. So many injuries or physical aggravations come from overuse or misuse of the body in unconscious daily movement. By the end of this article, you will have great new tools to practice that will help you carry yourself through your day more safely and hopefully pain-free.
Starting simple, let’s look at the benefit of exercise balls. You can construct an entire regimen around these handy workout helpers. They are a low-impact way of adding a little extra challenge to daily exercises because they challenge your stability. Any time we can teach the core to join the party of simple or gross movements, the better. Core stabilization protects the spine, encourages safe posture, and helps prevent falls.
The easiest way to incorporate the benefits of an exercise ball into your daily life won’t even require you to take time out for exercise. Use your exercise ball as a chair! While reading a book, eating a snack, working on the computer, or doing any other seated task, if you can do so safely you may as well do it while sitting on a ball! These daily tasks often distract us from thinking about good things like posture and core engagement, so the exercise ball encourages that activation and aids in developing new physical habits while doing everyday activities.
Another great way to utilize the exercise ball is to replace a chair with a ball in any of your seated exercises. In Part Two and Part Three of this series, we’ve given you several seated exercises to try. Substituting for a ball, amps up the challenge level of these exercises, so feel free to have a wall or a chair back nearby to aid with balance if needed.
Single Limb Balance
This exercise is mostly focused on the stability of the ankles but is a great way to incorporate a bit of hip flexor stretching if you would like to consolidate your exercises. Our feet are the base of our stance, and as we stand or walk, instability at the base can introduce risk. Functional use of the ankles improves balance, which will not only support good posture but also prevents slips, which limits the possibility of tweaking your lower back.
Holding onto the back of a chair or the wall, lift your right leg and balance on your left. Feeling wobbly on your ankle is completely normal, and letting the wobbles happen teaches your ankle its safe range of motion and helps it to stabilize. Repeat the same exercise on the other side.
If you are finding this easy and would like to incorporate the hip flexor stretch, bend the right knee and lift the heel back and up toward your glutes. You can hold on to the top of your foot with your right hand to aid with the stretch. You can also increase the challenge by taking your hands away from the chair or wall. Notice that with time the wobbles decrease and your balance improves.
Large Side Step
This is a great exercise for making sure your core is doing all the right work for you while making larger movements through space. Not only will the strength element help stabilize your spine, but working with balance also helps prevent future injury caused by unsupported movement.
You can start this one with your feet together and hands down, or on your hips if you struggle with balance. Pretend that there is a laundry basket next to you, and lift your right knee high and step your right foot out to the side over the imaginary basket. Plant your foot on the ground and use the same movement to bring your left foot to join the right. You can then repeat on the other side, stepping back over the basket the other way. Do five on each side.
If this is a challenge for you, feel free to hold on to a chair while making the move. The goal here is to make sure everything that you need to support balance and coordination is firing while you move, so be sure to think about activating the core muscles we’ve been strengthening.
Stand to Sit
We are now going to work the functional integration of your core and leg muscles into sitting standing. These everyday movements actually can introduce risk if not done safely and are commonly painful if you already struggle with lower back pain. The goal here is to make sure you are moving in a safe and supported way when getting into and out of a chair.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and have something nearby to hold on to if you need help with balance. Slowly lower your hips back into a chair, trying to make the landing gentle and controlled. Thinking about pressing into the heels as you sit will activate your upper leg muscles and give your descent that extra bit of support. After a pause, press into your feet and slowly stand up while taking care to keep your upper body in the same position. Think about core activation as your move in and out of your chair 10 times.
Make sure that this level of muscular engagement is involved any time you are sitting and standing. Check in with yourself as you are doing your ball exercises that you are engaging as you sit. When sitting down to dinner, be sure that you are not flopping into chairs or twisting your way out of them. The goal here is to bring what we learn in our exercises to our daily movement to decrease physical vulnerability and increase strength.
Each installment of this four-part series is extremely helpful for preventing and reversing back pain, and all can be utilized daily or in a rotation to be part of a well-rounded regimen. Sometimes, stretching will be called for more than strengthening. Perhaps eventually more challenging exercises will need to be introduced when you are feeling strong. No matter where you are in the process, what is most important is listening to your body and knowing what healthy movement feels like. Focusing on functional stability will show you where your weaknesses are and you can be the master of your own well-being by applying the exercises needed to reverse those weaknesses. Remember that our bodies are designed to work, and giving our bodies the love and support they need throughout all movement, big and small, allows us to work with our bodies to be able to walk through life safely and pain-free!