‘Forgive me for not leaping for joy, bad back you know’. If you’re a fan of Disney’s 1994 animated drama movie ‘The Lion King’, you are no doubt familiar with these words spoken by one of the film’s wittiest (for all the wrong reasons) villains, Scar. The Lion King’s main antagonist suffers from a condition that afflicts millions of people worldwide, that is, back pain. Fortunately, unlike the long-departed Scar, you can take advantage of the many back pain remedies available and ensure that you get rid of back pain for good.
Before we get into it, you should be careful, if your injury is recent, you need to allow the swelling around the nerve to start to go down before trying to exercise. If you don’t, you run the risk of making the injury worse, and the pain that goes with it. When you are ready, make sure you take your time, and gradually ease into the exercises and stretches – stop if they are painful, and wait until you feel less pain.
Among the best ways to do this is by incorporating exercises that will stretch out tight muscles and ease back pain gently and quickly. Below are five of the most effective exercises you can use to relieve back pain:
A pelvic tilt is an exercise that incorporates movements that stretch out the back and abdominal muscles to provide relief from back pain and strengthen the abdominals. There are several types of pelvic tilts including anterior, posterior and lateral. Each of these has different benefits to offer and must be performed correctly to provide the desired effects.
You can expect to enjoy the following benefits from pelvic tilts: longer and more flexible back and abdominal muscles resulting in reduced pain, improved posture, tighter pelvic muscles, and many others.
To perform a pelvic tilt, you need to get into the prescribed position i.e. lying on your back with knees bent, or, lying on your stomach, getting on all floors or standing up straight with your back against a wall depending on the variation you choose. Once you are in the correct position, start by inhaling. Next, engage your pelvis by pulling in both abdominal and pelvic muscles and exhale, hold for 5 to 15 seconds. Return to starting position and repeat the required number of times.
This is a very gentle exercise, that will strengthen those core muscles then stabilize your back. By themselves, they may not cause any noticeable benefits, but these will get at those muscles that you didn’t realize that you had, but that act to prevent weakness and the accompanying back soreness.
A bridge is a lower-body exercise that works on the glutes, hamstrings, abductor, abdominals and other muscles. There are several variations of the bridge including; hip, Glute, shoulder, chest, and stability bridges all designed to work different parts of your body.
Bridges have several benefits to offer including; improved posture reduced back pain in people who spend a lot of time sitting, a stronger core, which helps to prevent slouching.
To perform a basic bridge exercise, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Next, tighten your glutes, lift your hips from the floor and continue lifting until there is a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold for 5 to 15 seconds. Repeat.
Partial crunches are great for back pain since they don’t require you to complete a full movement which may place additional strain on your back. A regular crunch requires that you start from a supine position (lying on your back) and slowly pull yourself up until you are in a full sitting position. Conversely, a partial crunch involves lifting just your head and shoulders off the floor, holding for a second or two returning to the starting position. Repeat this movement several times, as many as you can comfortably do.
Partial crunches have several benefits for your back and other parts of your body. These include; helping you to build core and lower body strength and preventing further injury to your back.
To perform a partial crunch, lie on your back with your knees bent and your tailbone, lower back, and feet flat on the floor, bend your elbows and place your hands behind your head. Slowly lift your shoulders off the floor while contracting your abdominal muscles. Hold for two to three seconds and return to starting position. Repeat as required.
Trunk rotation stretch
The trunk rotation stretch is a supine exercise that involves muscles in the abdomen, sides, and back. These include; the lumbar multifidus, obliques and rectus abdominis. It has several benefits including; a stronger core, greater overall flexibility, and greater spine mobility. This last benefit is especially important because it helps to prevent lower back pain.
To perform a trunk rotation stretch, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Your arms should be stretched to the side and at shoulder length. Engage your core and slowly rotate your knees to the right. Ensure to keep your feet on the floor. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds. Contract your abdominal muscles and bring your knees back to the center. Repeat with the other side and perform as many reps as required.
This is a very light exercise but will surprise you how much it releases tension in the lower back.
The bird dog is a floor exercise that allows you to use your body weight to strengthen muscles in your core, thighs, butt and lower back. It uses several muscles in your body resulting in overall body conditioning and reducing pain in your back as well as stretching out other muscles in the body.
The bird dog is a yoga pose that stretches out the muscles in your back, strengthens your core and improves overall stability. This pose mainly works the erector supine muscle which is responsible for the movement of the spinal cord. Stretches can help to prevent spinal problems such as herniated discs, pinched nerves, stenosis and other conditions that cause back pain.
To perform a bird dog exercise, get down on all fours with your palms flat on the floor and your knees slightly apart. Raise your left arm and the opposite knee until both are parallel to the floor. Hold this position for a few seconds and return to starting. Repeat with the right arm and opposite knee. Perform this exercise as many times as needed while ensuring to maintain proper form, avoid sagging your back and keep your abs engaged.
This strength is particularly good if you suffer from sciatica, as that is often due to the sciatic nerve being trapped under that piriformis muscle. The piriformis muscle extends between the sacrum, and the top of the leg bone and the sciatic nerve runs under it. So once the nerve is inflamed, a small amount of tightness in the piriformis muscle can cause a great deal of pain, and further irritate and inflame the nerve, making the pain gradually worse.
“Releasing” this muscle by stretching it, will probably not create immediate relief, especially if the nerve is still inflamed, although it may ease it immediately. After repeated and consistent stretching, the muscle will remain longer, and the problem will not occur as easily.
To do this stretch, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. To stretch your left piriformis muscle, put your foot on your right knee. Grasp the back of your knee, and pull your head toward your knee. You will feel a tightening in the muscle at the back of your butt. This is the piriformis muscle. For a greater stretch, grasp the leg on the shin under the knee, and do it again. If any of this is painful, stop, if it is uncomfortable, and hard, only go so far as it is comfortable to do. In time the stretching will improve your flexibility, and you will have a greater depth of the stretch.
Please note that you will likely have to do this exercise for between two weeks and a month before you would expect to see lasting results, however, you should still gradually notice the pain-reducing, and the stretch becoming easier.
If your sciatica was quite severe, it is relatively common that you will get a flare-up, as you start getting better – meaning that the nerve becomes once more inflamed. Listen to your body, do not overdo it. Apply ice, or take an anti-inflammatory to reduce the swelling, and hence the pain.
Straight Legged Deadlift
The description of this exercise sounds extreme, but don’t worry, we can do this without weight to start with. What this exercise will do is to strengthen the muscles in the back, which has obvious benefits, also, it seems to strengthen the connection in the brain between lifting the back, and good posture, or form.
Before you start, if anything is painful, or doesn’t feel right, stop right away. It is better to avoid injury particularly if you have a pre-existing condition. You may feel concerned when you first do this because it seems like it might hurt, but just take your time, listen to your body, and make sure you keep good form during the exercise (particularly no slouching).
Start with your legs shoulder-width apart. With your back straight, and your chest out, lower your chest, as if attempting to pick something from the floor, with your legs straight. Only go down as far as is comfortable, although if you can feel at least slight tension in the backs of the legs, this would be good, as the hamstrings are connected to the back, and all add to the tension. Now, from the “close to the floor” position, keeping your back straight, or even better with your back slightly arched, as if slightly sticking your stomach out, lift your shoulders, as if lifting the imaginary weight you picked off of the floor upwards, until you are in an upright position. Repeat this 10 times, keeping good form.
If this exercise is too easy, with your legs straight, attempt to pick one leg slightly off the floor, and keep it off of the floor, and try the same exercise. If this is still too easy, you can attempt it and pick a weight from the ground – it is very important to keep the arch in your back and keep the back in this position as you perform the lift.
Whichever version you do, after doing this exercise you should feel like your back is stronger and seems more able to stay in a straight position – so you do not as easily slouch, and your posture should feel straighter.
Massage / Physio / Chiropractor
A message is a great idea for short term pain relief – as your muscles will often go into spasm – a cyclic feedback mechanism, the pain makes your muscles tighten, which causes more pain, which causes your muscles to tighten, etc. So releasing some of that pressure may help. Gentle EMS machine may also help – where a gentle voltage is applied across the muscles, which has a similar effect to a massage – it can break the spasm cycle. With an additional heat pack, it will also relax the muscles a little.
A chiropractor is better for a longer-term solution, if the spine is out of alignment, then re-alignment may prevent the back pain from recurring. That being said, it is also important to have strong core muscles to support the spine. It may be that the spine heals itself if the core muscles are strong enough, and correctly supporting the spine. Whether you see a chiropractor comes down to the discomfort or pain that you are experiencing.
Back pain affects over 540 million people globally and is the major cause of disability in many people. Further, up to 80% of the global population will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Americans spend $55 billion on back pain medication annually while this condition costs employers $20 billion in lost productivity.
Left untreated, back pain can cause disability, decreased productivity and a lower quality of life. Fortunately, there are safe and natural remedies you can use to combat back pain and these include acupuncture, biofeedback, magnesium, anti-inflammatory herbs, and others. Besides, exercise plays a pivotal role in the management and relief of back pain with exercises like pelvic tilts, camel pose, bridges and partial crunches proving to be most effective.