Back pain affects at least 80% of the population at some point. Though some people develop chronic pain conditions, for most back pain is a temporary yet nagging problem. Many people experience back pain after intense physical activity or the opposite, staying in one position for a long time. To relieve back pain, a regular stretching routine is one of the best ways for people to prevent and relieve mild, occasional back pain. The following areas should be stretched daily.
(Note: If you have an injury or a condition affecting your spine, don’t perform any new stretches or exercises without a doctor’s or physical therapist’s approval. Certain movements may exacerbate your condition.)
The muscles of our hips are used in nearly every action we perform. The hips also form the base of the back, and many muscles stretch from the pelvis into the lower back. The pelvis and back are connected by the sacroiliac joints, which form where the hip bones attach to the sacrum.
Two muscles in the hips are prone to tightness: the piriformis and the psoas. The piriformis rotates the thigh outward, both when the knee is straight and bent. The psoas is a hip flexor; it is used whenever the upper and lower bodies are brought toward one another.
A tight piriformis is most common in physically active people who use their legs a lot, such as cyclists. A tight piriformis can interfere with the sciatic nerve, pull the sacroiliac joint out of alignment and cause other muscles in the hip, buttocks and lower back to compensate for it. Stretching the piriformis is an important part of any back pain stretching plan. See two stretches for this muscle at www.spinal-health-care.com.
The psoas is in a shortened position while we sit, and is often tight in people who spend a lot of time sitting whether sedentary or on a bike. The psoas stretches from the thigh bone to the lumbar vertebrae; tightness can interfere with spinal alignment and cause nearby muscles to become strained due to compensation. The psoas can be stretched by performing a partial lunge, where you keep the knee, front of the calf and foot on the ground as you lunge forward.
Tight thigh muscles can pull on the pelvis and cause strain to muscles throughout the hips and lower back; changing pelvic tilt can also change the spine’s alignment, creating more pressure on spinal discs. Hamstrings often become tight because they are weak; being weak sets them up to strain easily. Hamstrings may be weak because general activities involve using the quadriceps more, which tend to be stronger. These, likewise, become tight from overuse.
Hamstrings and quadriceps should be stretched daily to help maintain the flexibility of these muscles. Refer to www.netfit.co.uk for simple thigh stretches.
Be aware that balanced exercise is an important part of back pain prevention. Stretching your thighs won’t be enough to relieve back pain if you’ve acquired a muscle imbalance.
Your lower back muscles incur a lot of stress throughout the day. They support the spine and upper body. They both bear weight and perform many different directional movements, including flexion, extension and rotation. It is easy for lower back muscles to become tight due to all the work they do. Stretching them daily, especially before and after physical activity, will help keep blood flowing to them. When you stretch the lower back, you’re also stretching the spine, encouraging a healthy range of joint motion.
Since the back muscles and joints in the lumbar spine move in many different ways, you’ll want your stretches to bring them through their different ranges of motion. The yoga pose called the cat-cow both flexes and extends the lower back. See a video of this pose:
Next, you’ll want to stretch in a way that facilitates the rotation of the muscles and joints. You can do a lower back rotation stretch by lying on your back, bending your knees with your feet on the ground and letting your knees both fall to one side. Turn your head in the opposite direction, and stretch the arm on the side you’re facing outward to the side. Hold for a few seconds, perform on the opposite side and repeat.
While not as mobile as the muscles of the lower back, upper back muscles are still subjected to a significant amount of stress throughout the day. Muscle imbalances are common as most of us have a dominant arm that is used more and bags are often carried by one side of the body. Postural dysfunction greatly affects the upper back as shoulders stoop, the neck juts forward and the upper back rounds out.
Stretching won’t fix posture or muscle imbalances, but with attention to posture and a balanced workout, it can help prevent upper back pain. Technically, you’ll want to stretch not only the upper back but the neck and shoulder muscles connected to it as well.
You can find a simple routine of 3 stretches for the upper body at exercise.about.com.
For people with average, occasional muscle soreness, a simple stretching routine may be enough to relieve back pain. The muscles of the thigh, pelvis, lower and upper back should be stretched daily to maintain good physical condition.
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