In the last blog, we talked about why back pain persists, and why exercise is medicine for chronic back pain.
If you are a desk-worker, do heavy manual labour, or work from home, the following exercises may benefit you to prevent or manage your back pain. Remember to always consult with a medical practitioner or exercise professional before starting any exercise program.
There is not one exercise regime that fits all, so consider addressing your personal pain experience with an exercise expert, such as an accredited exercise physiologist (AEP). AEP’s are university-trained exercise professionals who understand the physiological system’s responses to exercise.
This stretch is great to open up through the lumbar spine and release tension.
Start on all fours, ensuring wrists are stacked your shoulders, and knees under the hips. Bring your bottom towards your heels as far back as you can. Hold this position and keep your neck and shoulders relaxed. Hold this for about 30 second and do this twice whenever you feel you need a break.
Pilates arm opener
This one is great to allow some rotation through your thoracic/upper spine, and open up through the chest.
Lay on your side. Bend both legs at a 45 degree angle to the hips, keeping them together and straighten your arms out in front of your body with one arm on top of the other.
INHALE: raise your top arm up towards the ceiling, followed by your head and upper body; EXHALE: continue rotating the spine, as you lower your straight arm further down.
INHALE: bring your arm back, reaching to the ceiling; EXHALE: lower your arm down to the starting position.
Allow your head to follow the movement of your arm. Do 10 on each side.
Supine knee rolls
Feel the big tension release in your lower back for this one, and allow some rotation in the lumbar spine!
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Extend your arms out to the sides and keep your shoulders on the mat at all times. Keeping your knees together, drop them down to one side, rotating your torso. Return to the starting position and allow your knees to fall to the opposite side. Only drop your knees as far as you go comfortably. Do 10 to each side.
Piriformis (Figure 4) Stretch
This piriformis muscle that sits deep in your glutes can often be very tight and become the main cause of lower back tightness.
Lie on your back and place the outside of the left ankle onto the right knee. Interlace your hands around your right thigh, and slowly bring that thigh towards your chest as you lift the foot off the ground. Feel the pull! Hold this position for 30 seconds and do 2 on each leg.
These are a couple of myofascial tissue release to reduce tightness in that upper neck and back area. The main muscles that tighten up will be your neck, shoulder and chest. It is the myofascial tissues that surround the muscles (to protect it) that tighten up, so releasing this myofascial tissue by locating trigger points, foam rolling and stretching is required to return them to optimal function. Thoracic foam roller
Place a foam roll across the floor. Lie back with the foam roll running across the level of your spine that you would like to stretch. Inhale, then as you exhale allow your body to relax over the foam roll. Ensure you do not pull your head forward - keep it in line with the rest of your spine. Roll this for about 30 seconds to 1 minute and a couple of times. Avoid rolling it on your cervical spine (neck!) and focus on the shoulder blade area and traps. I like to keep my arms folded in front of my chest or palms behind my head to support my neck. Do this as often as needed.
Spikey ball trigger point alternative
If the foam roll is too much, give this one a go (or do it as well in addition to the foam rolling).
Stand up straight with your back to a wall. Place the ball against the wall and lean your upper back onto the ball. The ball should be between your spine and your shoulder blade on the side you would like to work. Bring this arm across your chest in front of you, using your other arm to facilitate this movement. Roll the ball around the area. If you feel a particularly tender spot, hold this position leaning back onto the ball to place some pressure on the area until it releases.
You can use a tennis ball as well, but avoid rolling over the boney parts (e.g shoulder blade or spinal vertebrae) and focus on the “bulky” muscles (e.g the traps). The further away from the wall you stand, the more pressure will be applied. Do this for 30 seconds - 1 minute and a couple of times as well.
UPPER BODY STRENGTH
Theraband seated row
This exercise helps to open up through the chest while strengthening your upper back muscles (the ones that sit on top of your shoulder blade!).
Place a resistance band around your feet. Hold onto either end and pull your elbows straight back towards you, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Keep your back in a straight, neutral position. Control the movement back to the start position, do this 10 times and 2-3 sets.
Shoulder external rotation
This strength exercise helps with increasing strength in your shoulder external rotators and further stabilise the shoulder joint to support your neck and upper back.
Hold a resistance band in both hands and hold your elbows by your side at 90 degrees (the band I am using is a looped band which can be found in Kmart stores). Keep your shoulder blades back and down and rotate the left arm outwards, keeping your elbow loosely by your side and your shoulder blades in a good position. Control the movement then return back to the start position. Relax and repeat 10x. Do both sides twice!
This exercise helps to activate those paraspinal muscles and increase that neuromuscular connection - that’s the “brain to muscle” connection. You want your brain to effectively communicate with the muscles that need “waking up.”
Start on your hands and knees, with your hands under your shoulders, and knees under your hips. Tighten the abdominal core muscles. Extend the opposite leg and the opposite arm simultaneously, making sure you maintain good control in your torso. Do not allow your body or hips to rotate (imagine you have a coffee cup on your back and you don’t want it to spill). Alternate with the other side, and do this 8-10 times on each side.
Let’s get the lower abdominals working! Have you seen what a dying cockroach looks like when you spray Mortein on him? Well you’re about to act like one.
Lie on your back, and press the lower back flat into the floor to activate the lower abdominals and protect your back. Bring your arms and legs up to table-top position with your hips and knees at 90 degrees.
Progression 1: Keep your arms up and bring one foot down at a time, keeping the knees bent.
Progression 2: Do the same as Progression 1 and lower the opposite arm above your head.
Progression 3: Do the same as Progression 2, but straighten the leg fully.
Do not allow anything else to move and make sure your back stays flat on the floor.
Return to the start position and repeat with the other side.
LOWER BODY STRENGTH
The most important muscles that support your trunk are your glutes! They’re supposed to be the strongest muscles in the body, and should be responsible for the bulk of our movements, but tend to be the weakest due to the nature of what humans do (sitting all day). It’s job is to stabilise your pelvis (which, surprise surprise, is the base of support for your spine!). By not being able to recruit the glutes for simple everyday activities, other muscles have to compensate, and hence the tightness in the lower back results.
Lie on your back. Bend both knees and place your feet flat on the floor at hip-width distance apart. Push through your heels, and lift your buttocks from the floor. Squeeze your bum as you lift to protect your back. Hold for 3 seconds and return to the floor. Do 3 sets of 10. In this exercise, I’ve placed an additional resistance band above my knees to also recruit my hip abductors. Give it a go!
If the glute bridge is too much for your lower back, try doing it standing up. The resistance band is optional, but it does add a little more tension.
Keeping your body up straight, holding onto something if needed. Move one leg backwards, driving the movement from your buttock muscle (or, lead with your heels!). Make sure the knee does not bend, or you don’t allow the trunk to flex forward. Control the movement back to the start position. Do 3 sets of 10. You just want some glute activation here, so no need to aim high.
Feel the burn with this one! This is another butt blaster exercise that works the gluteus medius, one of the layers of your buttock (yes there are 3 layers!).
Lie on your side with your feet, ankles and knees together. Keep the knees bent in a neutral position, and pretend there is a wall behind you so you can’t roll backwards. Keeping the feet together, lift the top knee up. Control the movement as you bring the knee back down to the starting position. I’ve also placed an additional resistance band above my knees to increase the tension here. Burn, baby burn!
And there you have it, a bunch of simple exercises you can do in less than 30 minutes! At Boundless Health & Wellness, we can help you with improving your general exercise tolerance and assist you in getting back into those meaningful activities that you may have been fearful of doing with your chronic back pain. Speak to us now and delay no longer.