Nearly everyone experiences back pain at some stage in their life. This is the result of our sedentary lifestyles and the impact of sitting in front of a desk the whole day with poor posture. In Britain, the main reactive action people take to reduce or numb the pain is to turn to pain medication. Some will also consult with osteopaths, chiropractors, physiotherapists or massage therapists to help treat their symptoms and try to correct the balance of their posture and spine. It’s also a good idea to take preventative measures to keep your back flexible instead of seeking help only when pain is already present.
Here are three easy stretching exercises you can do at home in conjunction with your other treatments to help relieve pain and keep your back flexible.
- Cat/cow stretch
The cat/cow stretch is a basic action, but extremely beneficial in lengthening the spine and expanding mobility in the back, shoulder, neck and abs.
How to do it: Start on your hands and knees, with your knees below your hips and your wrists below your shoulders. To begin, curl or round your spine towards the ceiling so it resembles a camel hump as you breathe. Allow your head to tuck in closer to your chest. Feel free to breathe a couple of long breaths to stretch deeply into this position before creating the opposite cat curve.
To transition to cat, tilt your pelvis by sticking your bum out behind you and extend your head backwards. Again, breathing into this position as many times as you need to feel relief. Do a few repetitions of the cat/cow movement, slowly and at your own pace. The cat/cow stretch can improve spinal alignment, create space between vertebrae and counterbalance the negative effects of poor posture like slump-sitting.
- Cobra stretch
When performed correctly, the cobra stretch can easily improve lumbar spinal health and create space between the vertebrae, enabling unrestricted access to the sciatic nerve, blood vessels and lymph channels.
How to do it: Lie down on your stomach, place your hands palms down on the ground and rest on your elbows. Staying on your elbows, lengthen your spine leading with your jaw as you lift your chest off the ground. Make sure your legs are not engaged and totally relaxed from the waist down.
When you lead by stretching your jaw/chin away from your tailbone you should feel a stretch in your lower back without having to raise your chest very high. Hold this position for a few breaths before resting. It’s good to counterbalance this stretch with child’s pose (creating a small ball with your body) to maintain an equilibrium in the spine.
- Spinal twist
The spinal twist improves spinal rotation and can greatly improve the spinal engine sequence that occurs with a healthy walking and running gait.
How to do it: Lie on your back with both knees bent and the soles of your feet on the ground. Extend your arms out from your sides, in a ‘T’ and in line with the top of your shoulders, with your palms facing down. Allow your knees to go over to the right, with your left foot raising off the floor to stay side-by-side with your right foot. Turn your head and gaze all the way to the left side. Keep your shoulder blades pressed down onto the floor and remain in the twist for 5-10 breaths, before returning to centre.
Next, allow the knees to gravitate to the left and turn your gaze to the right to repeat the process. With each day of practicing you should notice how your knee constantly becomes closer to the floor as spinal flexibility improves. Repeat 3-5 times each side and allow your breathing and gravity to do the stretching.