Lower back pain can be a lasting and debilitating sensation. Minor aches can hinder even slight movements, while serious injuries can prevent motion altogether. Often, lower back pain stems from a muscle strain in the back, hips, buttocks, legs, or abdominals. Luckily, many exercises can help combat this common type of pain by helping build strength, stretch the muscles, and ease pain.
Child’s pose is a simple yoga pose that gently stretches the abdominal and back muscles, helping alleviate lower back pain. Begin in a tabletop position with hands directly under the shoulders and knees under the hips. Slowly slide the hands forward, keeping the palms flat. The head and chest should drop down, and the hips should sit gently toward the heels. Sit on a cushion or block if your seat does not come comfortably to the heels. Hold this pose for 20 to 30 seconds, breathing deeply into the side ribs and back.
Sometimes, the gluteal muscles tighten, creating or worsening back pain. Stretches that work the glutes can be as important to back health as those that stretch the back. Lay on the floor facing upward and keep the knees bent. Let the knees fall, with control, to one side while keeping the shoulders flat on the floor. Place the knees on a block or pillow if the opposite shoulder lifts off the ground. Hold this side for 10 seconds before switching. This stretch is also ideal for conditions like sciatica, which can worsen when inflamed gluteal muscles press on the sciatic nerve.
For individuals who find that they cannot lay on the floor, this sitting exercise stretches the oblique muscles, as well as some in the hips and legs. This stretch begins by sitting and extending the legs. Cross the right leg over the left and keep the foot flat on the ground. Wrap the left arm around the right knee, or brace the elbow on the outside of the knee, and gently twist to the side on an exhale. Hold this position, sitting tall, for 10 seconds before repeating on the opposite side.
Recent studies suggest that the hamstring muscles are as important to back pain as the abdominal and back muscles. To stretch the hamstrings, sit on the floor with the legs straight out in front of you. If you find you are tilting backward, sit on a towel or pillow, or the rolled end of your mat. Gently bend forward at the hips, reaching toward the feet. You can keep the hands alongside the legs, or use a towel or strap around the balls of the feet. Slowly lower the belly closer to the legs. Hold the position for 30 seconds, or keep going slightly deeper on each exhale, before slowly releasing and repeating the stretch.
This exercise stretches the muscles in the legs and lower back a bit more than some others, so it may not be ideal for people who have smaller ranges of motion. Lie on the floor with knees bent. Using both hands, pull one knee toward the chest. The shoulders should remain flat on the floor. Hold this position for five seconds, then repeat with the other knee.
Back-bending exercises are ideal for fighting lower back pain because they work so many muscles. The cat stretch and cow pose work together to manipulate the flexor and extensor muscles in the back, as well as muscles in the hips. Start in the tabletop position, keeping the spine parallel to the ground. Arch the back like a cat, stretching the muscles between the shoulder blades and dropping the head. Hold this position for five seconds before relaxing and dropping the belly toward the floor, lifting the chin slightly but not craning the neck. Hold this position for another five seconds and then repeat the exercise several times, flowing with your breath.
The pelvic tilt is another exercise that can work the abdominals and stretch the lower back muscles, as well as those in the pelvis. Lie on the floor with knees bent. Tighten the abdominal muscles and gently lift the pelvis into the air, using the glutes and pressing the feet into the ground. Hold the position for 10 seconds, then roll down slowly and repeat the exercise as necessary.
A 2017 study found that people with chronic lower back pain often have more mobile spines and pelvises than average. To address this, some experts suggest trunk rotation stretches. While standing, clasp the hands together slightly below the chest. Gently rotate to one side without leaning the torso. Hold this position for 10 seconds before repeating. Position the hands higher to add additional tension on the muscles if necessary.
This stretch engages many of the muscles responsible for lower back pain, though it works the hip flexor muscles the most. Start by kneeling, then move one leg forward so that foot is flat on the ground. The body’s weight should be placing even stress on both hips. Place both hands on the forward knee and lean ahead slightly. Hold this position for 10 seconds before repeating on the other side.
The piriformis is a muscle that begins in the lower back, then stretches to the femur, sitting close to the sciatic nerve. Because of this position, it is often a source of significant back pain, especially in people with conditions like sciatica. To stretch the piriformis, lie flat on the ground with the knees bent. Cross the foot of one leg over the knee of the other, resting just above the ankle of the raised leg on the knee of the other. Keeping the top foot flexed to protect the knee, gently pull the lower leg toward the chest. Hold the position for 10 seconds or more before repeating on the other leg.
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