Having back pain is a common health issue amongst all people, regardless of their age. It is one of the “21st-century” diseases. Why exactly is that? In part because the lifestyle of many people today implies a lot of sitting. We sit nowadays more than we ever had. The technology advancements we have come up with allowed our life habits to change drastically. However good that advancement might seem, some of the downsides of that change is the deformation of our body which happens due to extended periods of time spent sitting, having a wrong/improper posture or neglecting physical exercise in general.
Due to the time spent on our jobs, we sometimes struggle with dedicating time to our health and well-being. However, there are methods of helping our body with overcoming acute and chronic back pain. Some of which can be applied even while in the office. But, back pain can occur even if we do not sit too much. Many people who stand for too long can experience back pain as well. It is known to be a typical issue for older people, bodybuilders, sportsmen, etc.
One of the reasons why back pain occurs in the lumbar area of the spine is disc bulging or herniation. A bulged disc occurs when the spinal discs get in contact with each other due to the shortening of the gel between the vertebrae. One can have a hernia without any visible symptoms whatsoever (unless an MRI scan is done), but usually, some sort of symptoms apply (1).
Upon the herniation, one can experience a “lightning” sensation in the lower back area which can be described as a sudden and/or weird pain and numbness. What happened at that moment? Some of the matter between the vertebrae slipped out of its original position. Pain is experienced because the bulging disc gets in contact with one of the nerves which reside along the spinal vertebrae. After the nerve gets stimulated or touched by the disc a painful sensation occurs.
Pain is usually localized. One can put his finger on the locus of where the pain resonates from. In certain cases, pain can go further down the body, to the hamstrings or even calves depending on the intensity of the bulge. In 90 % of the cases or higher disc hernia is cured with mobility exercises and does not require surgery.
Other causes are usually muscle spasms or muscle tension in the lower back area. These can come about as a result of poor muscle activity in the area or sudden and weird movement of the body.
Finally, back pain can come about as a result of an injury, accident or worse. In this case, it is mandatory to pay a visit to the doctor in order to make a detailed analysis of the status of the spine and what healing and recovery methods are to be applied. Some of the exercises which will be presented here could help, but a medical expert can recognize the crucial points way better.
It is crucial to recognize first what the cause of the back pain is. Our main concern is removing the cause of the pain, not the symptoms. It often happens that our symptoms get temporarily relieved because of certain stretching exercises which indeed can help out, but only for a short while.
The pain comes back after a few days or even in a matter of hours. This happens because the stressed muscle received a temporary change in its position, but after a certain, while it returns back to its stressed (usually overextended) state.
The muscle simply reverts to its usual strained position and the pain comes back. How to deal with that? Work on strengthening the muscle instead of stretching it! Other times, it isn’t the strength of the muscle which is causing the problem, but the inflexibility. Only then do we need to consider stretching.
It is important to notice a few more points before applying any of the exercises which will be presented:
- Back pain is a common problem, as I’ve already mentioned. Don’t panic! You are not alone. A lot of people experience back pain. Here is the most important thing to know when trying to overcome the problem. Consistency! Do not give up on finding the right set of exercises or stretches for you. Often times it feels like the pain just will not go away no matter what you do, but you just have to keep on trying. I’ve been experiencing back pain for over two years even though I am an athlete. I’ve thought this could never happen to me, but it can and it did. I simply sat for way too long, I’ve had a bulged disc during a lifting session and all that took its toll. I had to struggle a lot before I found the right solution for me.
- Not all of the exercises which will be listed are the “perfect” solution for your back pain or the “golden” exercise which will miraculously make your pain go away. There is no such thing. We all have different body types and some exercises which suit me well do not necessarily have to work for you too. Luckily, there are a lot of options and that means that there is certainly at least a few beneficial exercises for everyone.
- Have in mind that all of the exercises presented should only be performed to the natural extent of your body. Do not try to overdo the exercises since that can cause even greater pain and turn out to be counterproductive. Conduct these exercises only if they relieve pain and do not cause it further.
- If you wish to permanently get rid of the pain you should know that it usually takes more dedication than every-now-and-then 15 minute exercises. You might want to consider changing your daily habits. Try fixing your posture with some of the exercises which will be mentioned, sitting properly, stand up every 30 minutes or so, going for a workout 2-3 times a week, sleeping in different positions, etc (2).
Stretching Exercises For Back Pain
1. Back flexion stretch
This is one of the most recommended exercises for back pain relief (Picture 1.1). It is important to execute the stretch properly in order to experience the wanted effect. Lay on the yoga mat or any flat surface with a flat back. Slowly push both of your legs towards your stomach and feel your back muscles stretching. Hold the legs with your arms. Just let the legs rest for a while. Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds. Do 3 sets of this stretch exercise.
2. Kneeling Lunge
Begin the stretch with both knees on the ground. Extend one foot forward and slowly push your torso towards the extended leg (Picture 1.2). Hold your arms high. It is important to know what the targeted muscle in this specific exercise. We are stretching the quadriceps and the psoas muscle. These two can get weak due to hours and hours spent sitting on the chair. In order to feel the stretch, your hips need to be tilted anteriorly during the exercise. You should feel tightness in the groin/quadriceps area. Hold for 30 seconds. After you finish stretching one side, proceed to the next leg and hold the other leg stretched for the same amount of time.
3. Piriformis Muscle Stretch
This stretch is perhaps a bit more complicated, however, it can really relieve back pain significantly. Begin by lying on your back. Put your right foot on your left knee and bring it towards your belly. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Try holding your back flat on the ground without moving your body much. Perform the same movement with the other leg. After performing this exercise try standing up and walking for a little bit. It should almost instantly alleviate some of the tension in the lumbar area.
4. One-legged Hamstring Stretch
Put a chair in front of you and put your foot on it. Slowly try to reach your foot with the rest of your body while holding your back as straight as possible. As you can see on the picture it will not be a long motion, however, it stretches the hamstring just right. Perform the stretch as long as it feels comfortable. Do the same with the alternate foot.
5. Standing Hamstring Stretch
Another great hamstring stretch. Begin the exercise by bending your torso just like on the picture, trying to put your hands on the floor. Notice that the knees are slightly bent. That is because we do not want to get into overextension, which might be counterproductive for the back. If you cannot reach the ground don’t worry, it is only important to go as far as your body lets you. Hold this position for a minute.
Exercises for a Herniated Disc
This section can help with back pain in general, but it’s specifically intended to heal a herniated disc. The 3 step sequence of exercise goes like this:
The first step is to decompress the spine. We need to return the vertebrae to their natural position. We can do this by performing the “cat & cow” exercise or by hanging from a bar/door. If hanging, make sure that your feet remain on the ground. If performing the cat and cow, read the description below.
Cat & cow
The exercise focuses on decompressing the spine by reaching the full extension of the spine in both inwards and outwards position as shown in pictures 2.1 and 2.2. Begin with both knees and hands on the ground as shown in 2.1. Tuck your chin and try to touch your chest with it. Extend your thoracic spine (upper part of the spine) as much as you can and hold it like that for a few seconds.
After that, slowly flex your back and reach the anterior tilt position like shown in picture 2.2. Look at the ceiling while holding your back in the described position. Perform 10 repetitions of this exercise. It is a good exercise for strengthening the back muscles as well.
Cobra pose (Picture 2.3) is performed to let the gel between the vertebrae slowly return to its original position. Lie on the ground with your arms aligned with your chest. Slowly push your body up against the ground. Make sure your hips do not elevate from the ground at all.
If you cannot extend it fully do not worry. Just hold your back curved as much as you can. Slowly you’ll be able to further the movement. On the right picture is the advanced version of the exercises. If you feel comfortable with the movement you can extend it further into the advanced version of the cobra pose (shown in picture 2.4).
Try holding both stretches for about 10 seconds and then return to the original position. Do 10 to 12 reps of this exercise.
At the end of this article, we need to draw some conclusions which could already be preconceived from the article itself. Namely, it is crucial to keep a number of points on our minds as we go through a recovery process. First, it should be said that you’re not doomed if you have back pain! Almost everybody experiences back issues and especially lower back issues at least once in their life. It can happen to anybody!
The good part is that it is something that can be fixed. It requires effort, but there are always solutions for those willing to try. Second, it is important to realize that overcoming any disease is not only a physical process. Having a healthy mindset throughout the recovery is extremely important. More often than not people who go through the rehabilitation do not trust the doctor, the method of healing or themselves.
It is hard to keep a positive attitude when in pain, however, it can and does make a huge difference. Third and last point is that of understanding that you have a problem and that it needs to be dealt with. The pain usually does not just “go away” after a while, especially not if you have a bad posture or undeveloped core muscles (lower back, abdomen and lateral muscles). Following the instructions given in the article will either serve as a good start for relieving back pain or even getting completely rid of that annoying pain holding you back from reaching day-to-day goals and enjoying life. I hope the exercises given serve as a good tool for prolonging your health and well-being.