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Back Pain and Stretching Exercises

During a bout of back pain, the last thing you might want to do is exercise. But for some people, it's just what the doctor ordered. While we all know that regular exercise is important for our overall health, stretching is often an overlooked component of our routine. For people with back pain, stretching exercises are especially important because they can help reduce back pain and may even help prevent future episodes of pain or injury. Correct technique is essential. Read on to find out why stretching is so important for people with back pain and neck pain and how to stretch correctly.

Learn easy, gentle exercises and stretches to help you maintain a healthy spine in our back and neck pain exercises slideshow.

Why Should I Stretch?
The spine is a complex structure comprised of muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones. It's designed to move side-to-side and front to back, as well as carry the bulk of the body's weight. That's why it's so important to keep all its parts in good working order.

Regular stretching exercises help keep muscles and ligaments flexible. They can also reduce stress on joints and improve the flow of blood and nutrients throughout the body. Without it, stiffness, limitation of movement, and pain can occur or increase.

Stretching is also an important way to prepare the muscles for vigorous activities such as aerobics or playing a sport. That is why stretching exercises should also be done before and after a workout to prevent muscle strain and soreness and to help avoid injuries.

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Good Stretching
To get the maximum benefit from stretching, proper technique is essential. It's also an important way to avoid injury. Keep the following stretching tips in mind:

  • Start at the neck and work each muscle group down the body. This allows you to use already stretched muscles as you go.
  • Stretch slowly and gently only to the point of mild tension, not to the point of pain.
  • Hold each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds. Don't bounce!
  • Don't hold your breath. Inhale deeply before each stretch and exhale during the stretch.
  • Stretch for the same amount of time on each part of the body. A set of 3 to 5 stretches is usually enough. As your flexibility increases, you might want to increase the number of repetitions.
  • Alternate muscle groups and alternate sides.

Performing stretching exercises first thing in the morning is a great way to start your day refreshed and more limber. If you cannot do it every day, 2 to 3 times per week can still help improve your flexibility and may reduce your back pain.

Types of Stretches
The following are examples of stretches that may be helpful for people with back pain. Each one can be done 3 to 5 times or as many times as you are comfortable. Remember to breathe during the stretch. Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise or stretching routine.

Neck Stretch

  1. Stand with your feet flat on the floor, knees slightly bent, head forward.
  2. Tilt your head slowly forward, bringing your chin toward your chest.
  3. Turn your head to the left very slowly until your chin aligns with your left shoulder. Repeat to the right.
  4. Tilt your head slowly to the left, bringing your ear over your left shoulder. Repeat to the right.
  5. Return to the starting position.

Shoulder Rolls

  1. Stand with your feet flat on the floor, knees slightly bent, head forward.
  2. Using slow, fluid movements, roll your shoulders forward 10 times beginning with little circles and progressing to larger circles.
  3. Repeat step 2 rotating your shoulders backwards.
  4. Return to the starting position

Hamstring Stretch (Lying Down)

  1. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent.
  2. Grasp one leg behind the thigh and slowly bring it toward your chest.
  3. Pull until a gentle stretch is felt. Hold.
  4. Return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat with other leg.

Hamstring Stretch (Standing)

  1. Stand with one leg straight out in front of you, resting your leg on a table or chair.
  2. Slowly bend the leg you are standing on until you feel a mild stretch under the thigh of the raised leg. Hold.
  3. Return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat with other leg.

Hip Twists

  1. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent.
  2. Keeping your back flat on the floor, slowly rotate your hips to the left, lowering your legs down to the floor until you feel a mild stretch. Hold.
  3. Return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat step 2 rotating your hips to the right. Hold.
  5. Return to the starting position.

Back Extensions

  1. Lie on your stomach.
  2. Prop yourself up on your elbows extending your back.
  3. Slowly begin to straighten your elbows, further extending your back, until you feel a mild stretch. Hold.
  4. Return to the starting position.

Give It Time
Increasing your flexibility to the full range of motion may take time, especially if you are new to stretching or have had chronic back pain for some time. But don't give up. Be encouraged with even small improvements in your flexibility. Even if it takes several months, in time you will see and feel a difference.

Back Pain Stretches: Good for the Body and Mind
Use your back pain stretching exercise routine as a way to not only help your body but also as a way to relax your mind. Don't rush through your exercise routine; keep your movements fluid and precise. If it helps, use a mental image of a healthy spine as your motivation to keep going. Other things that may help keep you motivated are stretching along with a video, listening to quiet music as you stretch, or exercising with a friend.

Important Reminder
Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise or stretching program to make sure there are no restrictions in the type of stretching you should do. This is especially true if you have recently had spine surgery. Also, let your doctor know if you are experiencing pain when stretching; it may be an indication that your technique is incorrect or that you have an injury or some other medical problem. Over time and when done correctly, back pain exericses and stretches can help reduce your back pain.

Updated on: 09/07/12
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