In a world dominated by couch potatoes, all-day (and night) web surfers, highway commuters, sedentary lifestyles, exercise-phobic folks, and shoes with sky-high heels, back pain has become a household term. There’s upper back pain, which usually affects shoulders and the neck. People who slump a lot get this often, because the muscles around the spine overstretch and weaken. And then there’s lower back pain, the kind you get when you lift heavy objects the improper way, or over-consciously try to sit upright all day.
While there are several ways to ease an aching back, nothing works better than getting to the root of the problem and finding ways to prevent it altogether. Acupuncture and massages temporarily take away the discomfort, but getting back into the grind of daily life would only cause the back pains to resurface.
Whether you are feeling the strain from carrying your toddler around the whole day, or sitting in front of the computer for long hours, there are ways you can prevent unnecessary strain on your back muscles. Strengthening your core will have long- term benefits, keep you away from injuries, and may even prevent age-related spinal and muscle weakness later in life.
Here are four simple exercises keep your back in tip-top shape:
• The Hip Bridge
The Hip Bridge is a great exercise for those who sit for long hours. Prolonged sitting puts a lot of pressure on the spine, and a move such as the Hip Bridge would counteract such pressure. It strengthens the muscles around your spinal column, but also gives your lower back, glutes and even your abdominal muscles more stability and strength.
Begin by lying on your back and relaxing your arms. Keep your knees bent and feet hip-width apart and flat on the floor. Then lift your hips up, squeezing your buttocks as you do. The position is accurate when you are able to create a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Keep still in that position for two slow seconds, and gradually lower your buttocks. Do about ten repetitions of this during your workout.
As you progress, make it more challenging by lifting one foot and raising it toward the ceiling while keeping your knee straight, your foot flexed, and keeping your hips even. As this is the advanced form of the Hip Bridge, don’t try it until you’ve mastered the 10 repetitions of the basic version described above.
• The Bird Dog
This is the perfect back exercise for parents who frequently lift toddlers, but it also makes an ideal exercise for everyday activities like running and walking or even dancing. The Bird Dog improves coordination and balance, and it strengthens the hamstrings, lower and upper back, and the gluteal muscles. It is a great workout inclusion for those who experience lower back pain. Morever, it tones the abs.
Get on your hands and knees, keeping the latter under your hips. Your knees should be hip-width apart, and your hands must be shoulder-width apart and flat on the floor. Begin by tightening your abs, pulling them toward your spine. Be careful not to rotate your hips or arch your back. Then, the right leg must be extended back, and the left arm put straight ahead. Maintain this position a few seconds or for as long as you can. Go back on all hours, and repeat on opposite side. Do a total of 5 to 6 reps for each side.
Lunges are an exercise you can’t do without. It helps you gain more control of your spine and muscles which are vital for daily activities like running, walking and stair-climbing. Lunges target not only the spine, but also the calves, hamstrings, glutes, quads and even the sides of your trunk.
Contract your abs and place hands on your hips. Using your right foot, take a huge step forward. Go lower so that your right knee is positioned at a ninety-degree angle, then go back to your initial position without a pause. Repetitions for each leg are ideally 8 to 12 before switching to the opposite leg.
If lunges are already part of your routine and you need a more challenging variation, take a step forward with your foot but this time do it diagonally (2 o’clock on the right, or 10 o’clock on the left). The variation makes balance more difficult, thus developing your stability and strength. If this still isn’t giving you enough challenge, try doing lunges while holding a dumbbell to improve muscle resistance, or keep your hands interlaced at the back of your head.
• The Side Plank
This exercise is meant for your core – it aims to improve endurance and increases strength. It is ideal for strengthening and stabilizing your lower back and hips for activities like lifting or bending.
Begin by lying on your right side, keeping your body straight. Rest on your forearm for balance, keeping your elbow directly under the shoulder. Lift hips slowly away from the floor while keeping your abs tightened and not changing the straight line. Your hips should be square and your neck must be following the straightness of your spine. Keep in this position for half a minute or shorter, depending on your endurance. If this move is new to you, start with 2 or 3 reps per side. Some find this very difficult – they usually begin with bent knees.
Skinny Mom Fact: Anyone can have back pain but two things that increase your risk are:
- Poor physical fitness. Back pain is more common in people who are not fit.
- Being overweight. A diet high in calories and fat can make you gain weight. Too much weight can stress the back and cause pain.