Have constant back pain or a back condition? BMT suggests that you work out to strengthen your back! But at the same time, do know what you can and cannot do.
Back pain is often caused by the Lower Cross Syndrome, where the muscles at the bottom of your spine and your hip flexors are tight, and your abdominals and glutes are weak. This whole area gives rise to your core which connects your entire torso, arms and legs. The biggest piece of advice: stop solely working out your back for a while. Instead, work on your core. Here are some exercises and stretches (where you should feel no back pain) to help you:
1. Strengthening your abdominals
Sit-ups and crunches are usually known for strengthening your abdominals, but what you really need is to target are your lower abdominals. The best way to strengthen your lower abdominals is through leg raises as it is gentle, yet effective. If your lower abdominals are weak, the lower back can tighten up. Repeat this exercises six to eight times on each leg. If you feel your back hurts, then this exercise is not for you (or at least not yet).
2. Mobilizing your lower back
For your back to recover, you need to mobilize your lower back. There are a few exercises for this: the bird dog, lying pelvic tilts and glute bridges. These exercises will help strengthen your core and improve your balance as well.
Bird dog: Perform the pose depicted for 5-10 seconds and alternate sides eight to twelve times. Make sure you keep your spine in a neutral position (no sagging or curving) as you will feel more back pain if you do not have the correct form.
Pelvic Tilts: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Push your pelvis forward by contracting your abdominals and then push it back. Repeat this eight to twelve times.
Glute Bridge: Lie down, keep your hips square and lift it off the ground until your shoulders, hips and knees are in a straight line. Repeat this eight to twelve times.
3. Stretches to release muscle tension
There are a few muscles that you need to stretch to release the tension and allow your body to return to a normal posture.
Hip flexors: A main problem of lower back pain is due to tight hip flexors, which can pull your spine forward and pushing your butt back - resulting in a 'donald duck posture'. This means your lower back is constantly contracting, resulting in pain. Kneel on one knee and push your hips forward whilst keeping your back upright. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat twice on each side.
Pirifomis Stretch: As your hip pulls your back forward, your glutes tend to contract as well. TO stretch them, lie on your back and cross one ankle over the other leg's knee. Pull your knee to you and hold for 20-30 seconds. Repeat two times on each side. If you have acute lower back pain, stretch lightly or avoid this stretch until later.
Cat-cow stretch: Stretching your lower back is not simply hunching your pack. Get on all fours with your knees directly under your hips and hands directly under your shoulders. Curve your spine upwards (like a cat), holding the stretch for 20-30 seconds, before pushing your back down (like a camel) and also holding the stretch for 20-30 seconds. Repeat this six to eight times. If you have a herniated disc, do not perform this exercise.
Hamstring stretch: The back of your legs can also be tight when you experience lower back pain. Stretching this will release the tension of your back. Lie on your back with your feet on the floor and bent knees. Loop your arms at the back of one of your calves or knees and pull your leg towards you. A gentle stretch should be felt (do not overdo it). Hold this for 20-30 seconds and repeat twice on each leg. This is not recommended for those who experience numbness or sciatica during this stretch.
Other more serious back conditions
Sometimes it is not just a simple lower back pain that you experience, but rather you have a more serious back condition such as scoliosis, slipped discs or hunchbacks. There are some recommended exercises and also some exercises to avoid.
Scoliosis: The bird dog, pelvic tilt and cat-cow stretch exercises are recommended for scoliosis. This will help strengthen your back and keep it flexible. Another exercise to the list is the side latissimus stretch which targets the upper back. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly bent at the knees. Reach overhead and pull your left wrist with your right hand whilst bending at your right side. You will feel a nice stretch on your left torso. Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Slipped disc: The pelvic tilt, cat-cow stretch, piriformis stretch and hamstring stretch are recommended for you if you have a slipped disc. To add on to that, perform the child's pose or prayer stretch. Kneel on the floor hip-width apart and sit on your heels. Stretch forward, bringing your chest on top of your thighs and keep your arms forward. Remember to keep seated on your heels and hold for 20-30 seconds. Repeat as necessary.
Hunchbacks: The hunchback is caused by the weakness of upper back muscles, but also affects your lower back. The glute bridge, latissimus stretch and cat-cow stretch will help alleviate the problem. T-spine rotations will help mobilize your upper back and relieve tension. Get on all fours and take your right hand to push through to the left torso of your body, rotating underneath your left chest. Hold the position for 5 seconds and alternate sides. Repeat this for 10 times.
Avoid heavy-weight exercises if you feel pain on your back (note that soreness is different from pain), Work around your pain and avoid exercises that strain your back. If you still experience back pain after performing these exercises regularly, it is time to consult your physiotherapist or engage a personal trainer. They will be able to pinpoint the problem and help you fix it.
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