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Paired with a good strengthening and low impact exercises, stretching provides a sore back with the movement required to relieve pain both short and long term.
The back, legs, buttocks and spine are all areas that are meant for movement, and a couple of days rest can weaken these areas quickly. Even five to ten minutes per day is enough to help relieve back pain.
Stretching can relieve pressure on inflamed joints and reduce the tension of tight, inflamed muscles and other tissues. Stretching is most effective when done after the body has warmed up with light exercise for about ten minutes.
The following are some of the most effective stretches for reducing back pain:
The Cobra Pose is a classic lower back stretch and often needs to be worked up to a full stretch. This stretch is done by laying facedown on the floor and bringing the hands below the shoulders, or slightly in front. While inhaling, slowly push away from the floor while the pelvis remains pressed to the floor.
For lower back injuries, it helps to clench the gluteal muscles and abdominals to support the back and ensure no further strain is placed on the bones or joints. Take a few breaths, and while exhaling, slowly lower yourself to the floor again.
The Baby Cobra Pose is a beginners version of this pose and is done with arms bent only slightly, the full Cobra Pose is done with the arms fully stretched and elbows locked.
Child’s Pose is a great stretch for the lower back, especially when done in conjunction with the Cobra Pose.
Doing these two poses covers the full range of forward and backward flexion of the spine. Child’s Pose is done by kneeling on the floor with your feet tucked underneath of you.
For beginners, bending over and placing the palms of your hands on the floor may be enough of a forward bend. A full Child’s Pose is done by reaching the hands forward along the floor, lowering your face to the floor and bending forward at the hips and waist.
This is a great stretch for the spine and paraspinal muscles. Cat stretch is done on all fours with your limbs placed shoulder width apart. While breathing in, arch your back high above you and straighten your arms, tucking in your bottom, like an angry cat.
While exhaling, let the natural curvature of your lower back return, and emphasize this pose by keeping your shoulders back and your rear end poised upwards, while your bellybutton points to the floor.
The hips are an area that supports the spine, and if muscles, ligaments and tendons become tense and shortened, a lot of strain can be placed on the spine. Stretching the hips can help prevent injury to the spine and help loosen the soft tissue, relieving pain immediately.
Stand, and take a half-step backward with your right leg, then bend your left knee. Place your weight on your right leg, keeping it straight, and bend forward until you feel a stretch in your right hip. Repeat this on the other side as well.
The gluteus maximus is another supportive structure for the spine, with many nerves, muscles and other tissues passing around it. Tension in these soft tissues can cause misalignments and other problems for our spine.
The piriformis is one such muscle that runs through the buttock and can create pain in our back or legs. Stretching out this muscle can instantly relieve pain for many sufferers.
Lay on your back with your legs stretched and arms at your side. Begin by bending your left leg, placing your heel close to your behind.
Bring the knee towards the chest and grab your shin or knee with both hands. Pull that knee in towards the chest gently, feeling the stretch in the buttocks and lower spine.
Hold this pose for a few breaths, and slowly lower the leg on the next exhale. Repeat with the other leg, or both legs together.
The hamstring muscles run along the back of each thigh. They are very large muscles and, when they are inflamed and tight, can place a great deal of strain on the pelvis which is directly connected to the spine.
This pull on the spine can give us a misaligned posture which can cause further problems if allowed to persist. One of the most frequent injuries to the spine occurs when an individual bends at the waist to pick something up, and inflexibility in this region of the body is one of the main reasons why.
The most popular and effective hamstring stretch is simply to bend at the waist and touch your toes. It is important to keep your eyes looking forward as you bend, as this will reduce improper strain on the spine.
Be sure to focus on bending at the hips, not the waist or upper back. For beginners, reaching the knees is fine, as long as a stretch is felt with no pain in the lower back. By repeating this stretch daily, flexibility will naturally increase resulting in a greater range of motion.
The quadriceps at the front of the thigh are another large muscle group that can pull on our skeletal system when seldom used or abused. Runners often that stiff quads and hamstrings will cause back pain for them as the muscles are often stiff and tight from use.
A good stretch post-run can help prevent potential back pain. A simple quadricep stretch is done standing, with your hand on a fixed object for support.
Raise your right foot behind you and grasp your right ankle with your right hand. Keep your abdominal muscles and buttocks tensed and supportive while keeping your hips pointed forward. Pull the foot into your behind while standing straight for a few breaths, release, and repeat on the other side.
This stretch is good for stretching the sides of the body that are often overlooked. The oblique abdominal muscles are a large muscle that run up and down the sides of our torso and offer a lot of stability to our spine.
To stretch your obliques, stand fully erect with your shoulders back, abs tight, bottom tucked and feet shoulder width apart.
With your arms at your side, slowly begin to lean to the right, sliding your hand down your thigh until you reach your mid-thigh, knee or calf. Hold for a few breaths and slowly come up, repeating with the other side.
Often, our spines are required not to bend in one direction, but many. This twisting motion has a great potential to injure us. The Seated Twist can increase your range of motion to help prevent overextension of our spine, muscles and soft tissue.
Seat yourself on the floor with legs crossed and your upper body perpendicular to your lower body. Place your left had on your right knee, and your right hand behind you, slowly twisting to the right as you do so.
Inhale, and on the exhale you will find you can twist a bit further. Repeat this breathing pattern while twisting further, and then do the other side, slowly.
Hip Circles are old fashioned, and they work. This exercise is a great followup after a series of static stretches. Simply stand with your feet shoulder width apart, hands on your hips, your stomach and buttocks clenched.
Slowly move your hips to the right, back, left and forward. Repeat this motion slowly, making the circles bigger and more exaggerated each time. Repeat in a counterclockwise motion.
Health by choice, not by chance.