7 Back Stretches Everyone Should Be Doing For Their Health
Back discomfort is, quite simply, the worst. It makes everything harder and less enjoyable, whether it's just a stiff spine or full on back pain. The good news is there are actually stretches that help minimize back pain and discomfort (that also just feel really, really good).
And if you find yourself constantly complaining about your back, you're absolutely not alone. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, an estimated 75 to 85 percent of Americans will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives, and 50 percent of patients with lower back pain will have a recurrence within a year.
However, according to the Spine-Health.com, "meaningful and sustained relief of back pain will usually follow the increase in motion" — i.e. stretching. This means that the more the you stretch, the better your back will feel. And I don't know about you, but I always just feel better and more balanced after taking time out to focus on stretching. I feel more centered and less tense, and it's honestly worth it for that alone.
If you've been dealing with back discomfort, or are just interested in making sure your back heath game is on point, here are seven stretches you should definitely be doing.
1. Back To Front, Side To Side
In a piece for Spine.com by orthopedic surgeon Peter F. Ullrich recommended easing into back exercises with a simple neck stretch. "While standing or sitting, gently bend the head forward while bringing the chin toward the chest until a stretch is felt in the back of neck," then, "gently bend the neck to one side as if to touch the ear to the shoulder until a stretch is felt in the side of the neck. Switch to stretch the other side." This will stretch the neck and top of the shoulders.
2. Knee To Chest
Ullrich then recommended lying on your back and doing a knee to chest stretch. "While lying on [your] back, pull both knees to the chest while simultaneously flexing the head forward until a comfortable stretch is felt in a balled-up position." He said to follow by doing this with one leg at a time while keeping your head flat on the floor. He noted that this stretch "can help bring back some suppleness and increase mobility, decreasing back pain and discomfort," and recommended doing it first thing in the morning.
3. Spine Stretch
In a piece for Best Health, Margot McKinnon, director of Body Harmonics Pilates in Toronto, said to simply sit with your legs apart and slowly bend at the hips as far down as you can go, drawing your neck to your chest. "This stretch elongates the paraspinal muscles [the muscles beside the spine], and you may feel it in the hamstrings, calf muscles and the bottoms of the feet," she said, and she recommended doing it several times a day, especially after a long day of work sitting at a desk.
4. The Cat-Camel
In a piece for About.com's health section, yoga expert Ann Pizer recommended the cat-camel stretch (also know as cat-cow stretch). "Initiate each movement from your tailbone and let it ripple up the spine. Move your head last of all," she wrote. She noted that the stretch will help "awaken and invigorate your whole body."
5. Cat-Camel Twist
In a video series for the PsychTruth YouTube channel on stretches for relieving back pain, professional yoga instructor Jen Hilman adds an additional step the cat-camel in which you slowly rotate the spine by bring your shoulder towards the floor (as demonstrated in 23:20 of the above video). She noted that this will help to really stretch and elongate your upper spine.
6. Lying Knee Twist
AdvancedPainManagement.com has an entire compilation piece on stretches to ease back discomfort, and one of their most recommended stretches is the lying knee twist. "Lie on your back with your legs extended straight out. Bend the right knee up and cross it over the left side of your body. Hold in a position that allows you to feel a gentle stretch through the back and buttocks muscles for 20 seconds. Tighten your core muscles and rotate back to center. Repeat three times on each side," they write. "Use this movement to stretch the paraspinal muscles and strengthen the abdominal muscles."
7. Child's Pose
In a piece for the Chopra Center's website, Dr. Steven Weiss, yoga teacher, chiropractor and author of The Injury-Free Yoga Practice recommended finishing your stretches with a simple child's pose, writing that "It helps align the spine and takes pressure off the lower back." I personally always find that this one works wonders when I don't have a ton of time but want to do at least one back stretch.
Sitting at desks all day means that almost all of us have back complaints at one time or another, if not basically all the time. And if you feel like it's starting to get the best of you, try incorporating the above stretches into your daily routine to see and feel a huge difference.
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