Exercises to relieve back pain and restore your health

Now we’ll focus on helping you determine which exercises can help relieve pain and restore back health.

Your body, designed for movement, needs to be active for good health. Prolonged immobility weakens muscles, stiffens connective tissue, and reduces joint lubrication. Instead, movement heals and supports you. Your physiology releases feel-good hormones, reducing stress and rewarding your activity.

The most common causes of back problems are poor breathing mechanics and posture, pelvic strain, physical trauma, age-related degeneration, a sedentary lifestyle, being overweight or pregnant, and stress. Since many of these are related to muscle issues, using corrective exercises to mobilize and strengthen the muscles that support and move the spine is key to reducing and preventing back pain.

Listening to your body

The mind-body connection is the bridge that helps you understand your physical state, allowing you to respond to your body’s messages.

In low back pain, misunderstanding or ignoring the pain can lead to injury, and overreacting can lead to unnecessary tests, medications, and procedures that slow recovery. With your mind-body connection, you can better distinguish between the warning sensations that warn you to avoid specific movements and the less strenuous movements that result from muscle tension and joint stiffness. The latter is the type of pain we want to go through for relief.

Mindfulness meditation and breathing techniques can help strengthen your mind-body connection as you practice the following exercises.

Do corrective exercises

Here are three exercise categories for back pain relief with examples for you to try.

Stop immediately if you experience any pain or a “wrong workout” while doing any exercise. Remember to pay attention to any feelings you experience.

I’ve developed these exercises to address the most common causes of back pain, but since back pain doesn’t respond to just one condition, not all exercises work for everyone. Before starting any exercise program, talk to your doctor to understand the source of your pain and get approval.

While many of these exercises can work for lower back pain, Part III of our series focuses on sciatica and offers additional techniques for managing its nerve-related presentations.

1. Exercises for breathing and posture

Proper diaphragmatic breathing practice is the cornerstone of the back pain treatment and prevention programs I use in professional sports. Since your primary breathing muscle, the diaphragm, is also a core and postural muscle that attaches to your lumbar spine and ribs, by establishing proper breathing biomechanics, you can realign your spine, pelvis, and ribs while strengthening your core. Deep breathing lowers your body’s physiological stress response and facilitates recovery.

In addition to the 5-7-3 breathing exercise in Part I, try the breathing bridge exercise by following the instructions below or watching this video (shown above). For information on the effects of breathing on overall health, read my breathing series.

respiratory bridge

Bend your knees and start on your back with your feet hip-width apart on the ground.

Bend your knees with a yoga block and place your hands on your lower ribs.

Hold a foam yoga block or rolled towel between your knees to keep them from sticking out.

Place your hands on your lower ribs to control their movement with each breath.

On a full exhale, pull your lower ribs toward each other, feeling your core burn and your ribs move down. At the end of that breath, without exhaling, tuck your tailbone to straighten your back and lift your hips 3 or 4 inches off the floor.

Use your own and back strength to avoid arching your back.

Maintain bridge pose and take five long, deep breaths focusing on correct rib movement, especially on exhalation.

Hold this position with your own strength and buttock strength to avoid arching your back.

Avoid upward movement of your ribs during exhalation; there should be no stress or tension in your jaw, neck or shoulders.

If you feel pain while lifting your hips into the bridge, keep your hips and lower back on the floor during the breathing exercise.

Practice two sets for a total of 10 breaths.

2. Exercises for hip and hip mobility

The lumbar vertebrae of your back are not designed to twist; they must be stable. The pelvis is designed with ball-and-socket joints to ensure rotation in all directions.

Unfortunately, if your hips are tight or your hips don’t move freely, you’ll put pressure on your lower back. It is important to avoid this pressure by creating a healthy balance of hip and hip mobility and lumbar stability.

Addressing the hip flexors is the main starting point for hip and hip movement. Check out this video for my three-way hip flexor release.

3. Exercises for medial rotation

Your thoracic spine in the middle of your back is designed to rotate, and when it doesn’t rotate properly, it causes your lower back to compensate. Back rotation exercises are good for relieving pressure on the back and creating healthy spine movement.

This double bent knee twist uses breathing and corresponding rib movements. Keep these guidelines in mind when performing the mid back twist exercise.

Double bend knee

Lie on your right side with your knees bent 90 degrees and your hips straight in front of you.

Use a pillow or pillow under your head to keep your neck neutral.

Knees and hips should be aligned and stacked to help keep your back stable.

Place a yoga block or pillow between your knees.

Align your shoulders, hips and knees.

Extend both arms together with the shoulders straight in front of you, palms together, hands resting on the floor.

Exhale as you open your left arm to the left while keeping your lower body on the right side; knees and hips remain aligned and stacked. This is important to keep your back stable.

Place your right hand on the outside of your left leg to help support it.

Turn from the center of your waist, not your waist.

Place your right hand on the outside of your left leg to help support it.

As you exhale, focus on drawing your lower ribs in to the right side of your ribcage, helping to further twist your ribcage and thoracic spine.

Take four more breaths, holding the position and focusing on the movement of the ribs on the exhale to guide the rotation. Then let it go back to the beginning.

The Best Leggings of 2022 (Highlighted by CNN)

Repeat on the left side.

Once you’ve tried exercises that fit into these three categories, decide what works for you and do them every day for at least two weeks.

If sciatica is an aspect of your back pain, look for nerve pain relief techniques in the next article in this series. Once you’ve noticed an improvement in your back health, turn to part four of the series to create a proactive maintenance plan to prevent pain.

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