If you’re one of these sufferers, you know how challenging chronic back pain can make the most routine tasks. It can rob you of the desire to participate in activities which you once enjoyed and even make it difficult to get out of bed. If you’ve relied on medication to ease your symptoms but still aren’t experiencing relief, you may benefit from the regular practice of back pain exercises – and the most effective exercises are likely those you haven’t considered.
With this in mind, here are four types of back pain exercises that might surprise you with their effectiveness:
1. Weight training
Strengthening the muscles of the back will help them provide better support and should ease pain as the muscles become stronger. Naturally, if back pain already exists, any weight lifting program should first be discussed with a doctor; ideally, a trainer or similarly qualified professional should supervise to ensure proper form is being followed. Be sure to wear a weight belt for support, and take it slow. Ideally, the amount of weight you use should allow you to perform 12 reps before you feel tired.
Pilates is also a good tool for strengthening the back and lessening pain. Regular practice of Pilates also enables better posture, which is also helpful in preventing further pain. Strengthening and toning the entire core area provides extra stability, too, taking the pressure off of your lower back.
3. Wall sits
When performed properly and regularly, wall sits strengthen the lower body and provide added support. The thighs and glutes, especially, are strengthened so they can absorb the pressure of walking and sitting properly – taking the pressure off the spine. To properly perform a wall sit, stand with your lower back against a wall and walk your feet forward. Slide down the wall, with your feet hip-width apart and pointing ahead, until your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Shift your weight to your heels while pressing your lower back into the wall. Keep your abs and shoulders relaxed, letting your thighs do the work. Hold this position for 1-2 minutes.
There are a number of stretches which can strengthen the back and alleviate pain – and they don’t all have to do with the back, either. This has to do with the fact that back pain can stem from a number of sources, and stretching helps improve flexibility.
- Stretch hips by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and taking a half step back with the right foot. Bend your left knee and, while keeping your right leg straight, shift your weight back to your right hip. Bend forward and reach down the right leg – you’ll feel a stretch in the outer hip.
- Stretch the muscle that runs through the buttock – known as the pinformis muscle – by lying on your back and crossing one leg over the other. Gently pull this knee toward your chest until you feel the stretch in your buttock area.
- Hamstring stretches are very helpful in alleviating back pain. You can simply bend forward, stretching with arms extended toward your toes, until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. You can also perform a hamstring stretch while sitting on the floor by extending your legs in front of you and reaching for your toes.
5. Abdominal Bracing
If you’ve attended a yoga class in the last decade, you most likely have heard the phrase: “Draw your belly button to your spine.” This is a technique called “hollowing,” and is meant to engage certain core trunk muscles, such as the Traverse Abdominis, without contracting the more superficial abdominal muscles (such as obliques and rectus abdominis).
However, a more effective way to engage core muscles is called abdominal bracing, which activates the entire abdominal wall from all angles and directions, causing the layers of abdominal muscles to physically bind together. In fact, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science compared bracing and hollowing exercises in healthy women and showed significant improvement in abdominal muscle activation using bracing techniques.2
A simple bracing technique can be practiced either sitting, standing, or lying on the floor, and requires no special equipment:
- Place your hands at your waist
- Tense your abdominal muscles as if you were expecting to be punched in the stomach
- Increase the contraction until you feel your sides stiffen
- Hold 10 seconds
- Repeat 5 times
It’s important when you perform these back pain exercises that you pay attention to any pain. Pain is a signal that something is wrong, and ignoring it could worsen the underlying cause of your back pain.
1 National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/backpain/detail_backpain.htm [accessed November 4, 2015]2 Koh HW, Cho SH, Kim CY. Comparison of the Effects of Hollowing and Bracing Exercises on Cross-sectional Areas of Abdominal Muscles in Middle-aged Women. J Phys Ther Sci. 2014;26(2):295-9.