As our lives have become more sedentary and yet increasingly stressful in equal measure, so our bodies are feeling the effects, not least in the back. Prolonged periods of sitting can play havoc with our spines, limiting flexibility and range of movement. Being hunched over a computer or a mobile often involves rounding of the shoulders and shortening of the chest and ultimately impacts on our posture. Even the position of the mouse can cause tension in the neck and shoulders. The number of working days lost to back pain runs into the millions each year and the incidence is much higher for the over 50’s. In short, modern day living is often at the heart of back pain. Regular stretching can make all the difference.
As we fly through each day, we seldom stop to think about how our bodies are feeling. We overlook areas that are tense and push on until pain signals us to stop…and even then it’s not uncommon to ignore those signs until the discomfort becomes so acute that we are forced to take action. That action often involves medication which could so easily be avoided.
Traditionally, doctors often prescribed rest for back pain but this is now considered outdated. Movement is key, preferably on a regular basis, combined with core strength exercises and stretching to release the tightness. Even those who exercise regularly, often overlook stretching. They do so at their peril: stiff joints mean restricted range of movement, leading eventually to injury.
There’s no overestimating how important stretching is and, best of all, it makes you feel so much better! Whenever I teach stretch classes on retreats, I always get comments on how lovely it would be to stretch regularly at home. So, here’s my favourite stretches to keep your back flexible, relaxed and pain free
1. Lumbar release
- Lie on your back and bend the knee towards your chest, holding it behind your thigh.
- Breathe in, thinking about expanding your ribs out to the side as you do so rather than lifting the shoulders, and on the out breath, gently pull the knee closer to your chest. Feel the lower back stretch and lengthen as you do.
- Release and repeat in a slow rocking motion using the deep breaths to help release any tension – around 10 times each leg
- To finish, draw both knees to the chest, holding around the thigh and repeat the movement. You can also rock side to side as well as forward and back.
2. Thoracic rotation
- Lie on your back with your legs out straight. Bend one leg in towards your chest.
- Leaving the shoulder on the floor and the arm out to the side to steady you, use the other arm to take the bent leg across the body to the opposite side. Take it as far as your mobility will allow without the shoulder leaving the floor.
- The knee will stay at hip height as you do so. You may want to rest it on something to allow you to relax in to the stretch.
- You should feel a stretch in your mid back. Breathe slowly and deeply.
- Hold for around 45 seconds and repeat the other side.
3. Spine curl
- Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Take a few deep breaths to relax and sink down in to the floor.
- Breathe in and on the outbreath, start to tuck under the pelvis, scoop the tummy, squeeze the bottom and peel each vertebrae sequentially off the floor.
- Imagine your spine is a string of pearls and you are lifting each pearl up individually, lengthening the back as you do. You will end up resting on your shoulders with your body in a straight line from your chest through to your hips and knees.
- Take a breath at the top and on the out breath, reverse the process to return to the floor. The bottom stays up until the very last minute to get as much length as possible.
- Work through each section of the spine, identifying any stiff areas that feel like they are tight or moving in one whole block and try and work into them with each repetition.
4. Bottom stretch
- Starting from the same position as (3) above, put one foot on the other knee.
- Loop your hands through the thigh and pull the leg towards you and feel a stretch in your bottom and outer thigh.
- To increase the stretch use your elbow to gently push the knee a little further out to the side.
- Watch that your hips stay square as they will want to twist and wriggle out of the stretch!
- Breathe deeply, sending the breath to the stiff bits and hold for at least 45 seconds, pulling the thigh in and easing the knee out a little further as you feel it loosen.
5. Diamond press
- Lie on your stomach with your forehead on your hands. Your arms will form a diamond shape hence the name!
- Drawing the shoulder blades down the back, imagine someone is pulling a string from the top of your head to create length as you push the hands into the floor and lift the head and shoulders off the hands.
- Keep looking at the floor as you do to keep the length at the back of the neck.
- You are trying to ‘scoop’ in to the upper back as you lift rather than rounding it.
- Hold at the top for 5 seconds, release and repeat 6 times.
Aim to do these stretches once a day if you can. It helps if you can set the same time aside so you get into the routine and it doesn’t feel so onerous. You’ll soon feel the difference and the day won’t feel the same without them!
Any questions pop them in the comments and I will get back to you. Let me know how you get on.