ABOUT 80 per cent of Australians will experience an episode of back pain at some point in their lives. In my physiotherapy practice, I see quite a range of back conditions in patients of all ages. In most cases, poor posture and tight muscles require attention, in addition to overall fitness levels.
Unfortunately there is no single, magical exercise that will ‘fix’ your back, but there are plenty of stretches you can do to relieve the little niggles and twinges that we all get, and to help protect your back and neck in the long term. Here are five of my favourites. Do them every day or as needed, and in order as described below or as individual exercises.
1. SINGLE LEG HUG FOR THE HIP
Lying on your back, hug one knee to your chest. Gently push the knee away from your body for five to ten seconds while pressing with the hands. Start with both knees bent the first few times you do this exercise. Progress to extending the other leg while you hug the knee to the chest. Relax; repeat four or five times with each leg.
2. LOWER BACK RELEASE
Progress from the single leg hug by bringing both knees to your chest. Counter-resist with the hands and knees for six to ten seconds. Repeat four or five times. Doing this exercise should feel great on the lower back; do not repeat the exercise if it doesn’t.
3. BACK ARCHES AND RELEASE
Now, on all fours, curve your back up as you breathe in. Do not hold the position; follow immediately with gentle curving of the back down towards the floor as you exhale. Return the spine to a more neutral position, halfway between arching up or down, and gently take your hips back as you extend your arms in front. You will need to place your knees a little wider to achieve this with ease. You might also need to place a pillow between your waistline and thighs when you first start doing this stretch. Hold for 20 to 40 seconds; the stretch should feel relaxing and comfortable for your lower back.
4. GENTLE SPINAL AND HIP ROTATION
Lie on your back with both knees bent, feet on the ground, arms outstretched at shoulder height. Let your knees roll to the floor in one direction as you hold the opposite shoulder on the ground. Repeat three or four times on each side.
5. ADDUCTOR STRETCH WHILE STANDING
Lean forward at the hips and place your elbows on a table. Bend one knee and drop into this side. You will feel a stretch in the inner thigh of your straight leg.
If your back pain is chronic, repetitive or extreme, please see a physiotherapist, who will diagnose you properly and work up a tailor-made recovery plan.