Back pain can be a debilitating condition. Luckily, regular stretching may be the most effective and cost-efficient way to soothe or prevent it. Here are 5 physio-approved stretches to try.
Whether it’s caused by sitting at your desk for too long, lifting things incorrectly or poor posture, back pain is something far too many of us face – often on a daily basis. The source of this pain can be physical (coming from ligaments, joints and muscles), or it can be psycho-social (due to stress and the brain misreading messages from the muscles and nerves in the back). So, what can be done to reduce this pain and prevent it from coming back?
The first step in your mission to reduce back pain involves understanding the cause of the pain, as this determines the most effective way to reduce it.
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Stiff joints can cause a constant, deep ache
Your spine consists of a sequence of small joints from the neck down to the pelvis, which allow movement in all directions. Every now and then, one or two of these joints will become stiff. This is usually after you’ve spent some time in an awkward position, such as slouching on the couch binging on a TV series, or sleeping in a cramped position after a few wines. When these joints become stiff, they’ll give you a constant ache in the area.
Exercises to reduce joint ache
1. Keep moving!
Standing and bending forward to touch your toes is a great way to loosen up stiff joints in your back. Bending to each side, by sliding your hand down the outside of your leg, is also a great way to get the joints moving. Try 10 slow and smooth repetitions in each direction (forward, to one side and then to the other side).
2. Lay on a tennis ball
That’s right, lay on the floor with the ball under the aching spot and let the ball dig into the area for a minute or two. This pressure will help loosen any stiff joints.
Joints moving too much can cause a sharp, catching or pinching pain
As we know, some people are more flexible than others. This is often because they did dance or gymnastics as a kid, but it’s usually because of something out of your control – genetics. That’s right, it’s your parents that determine whether your ligaments are stiff or stretchy. If you are flexible with stretchy ligaments, then the joints in your back can move too much increasing the load on the ligaments and muscles causing pain.
Exercise to reduce sharp pain
3. Move with control
This will not only reduce the risk of joints moving too far, but also force the muscles to control the joints. Over time, your muscles will become stronger and better at controlling the joints, reducing the risk of feeling that dreaded catching pain. A great way to improve movement control through your back is to stand on one leg and slowly reach down to touch your knee with the opposite hand. Try 10 each side, and if it’s too easy do them slower, or try it with your eyes closed.
Then there’s the worst pain of all …
There are two types of overload in your back; acute (when you’ve lifted, pulled or pushed something too heavy), or chronic (when you’ve been in a sustained or awkward position for too long). The acute overload pain is usually pretty intense, so there are no exercises that can help in the short term.
You need to see a doctor or physio to assess the damage and put together a recovery plan. However, the chronic pain is usually caused by bands of muscle that have contracted but not relaxed. These bands are commonly known as knots, or trigger points, and there are several ways you can relieve the pain.
Exercise to reduce pain from trigger points
4. Grab a hot pack
There are several different types of hot packs available these days, so grab one that can stay hot for 20 minutes and place it over the area a couple of times a day.
5. Try a massage, or grab the tennis ball again
Either dig your knuckles into the area, or lay on the tennis ball again to apply pressure to the trigger point. At first, this will feel like it’s making the pain worse. Try to persist, as it will help to relax the muscle and relieve the ache.
If pain persists, see your doctor…
We’ve explored some of the most common causes of back pain, however there are many less common causes. These include pain caused by nerves (and brain), and serious health issues. If your pain is strong, or persistent, it’s always best to seek advice from a professional.
Scott Coleman is a physiotherapist, founder and CEO of workplace health and safety app Preventure.live. For more information on back pain and how to avoid it head to www.preventure.live.