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Back Pain

01 September 2019

3 simple exercises you can do to relieve back pain and accomplish new fitness goals at the same time

Use these practical strategies to fight your low back pain safely – no equipment needed.

Back pain is the most common type of chronic pain worldwide and is a major reason for work absenteeism in South Africa. Causes of back pain vary from spinal problems to emotional stress, and a treatment regimen which sometimes involves a combination of factors, including exercise, can provide relief.

But the key to less pain is sometimes simple: move more and ache less. “A strong core is critical in alleviating back issues,” said physical therapist, Dan Giordano to Men’s Health. The core is important for stabilising our lower back and preventing injuries that cause pain in the lower back, explains physician, Dr Douglas Chang.  

Here are three simple exercises you can do at home to improve your strength and flexibility, and ease back pain, so grab a mat and get down on your back.

Partial crunches

Also known as the "curl-up", crunches build strength in your lower back (lumbar spine) and stomach muscles. It is especially good for people with spondylosis (age-related wear and tear of the spinal discs) as it strengthens the spinal support system. If these muscles around your spine can stabilise your back, your spine will be healthier and as a result, your pain less. 

How to do a partial crunch:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
  • Place your hands and arms behind your back.
  • As you go up, inhale deeply, and as you go down, slowly exhale.
  • Gently raise your head, neck, upper back and shoulders, about 5cm off the ground. Hold for 3–5 seconds.
  • Lower yourself back onto the floor.
  • Rest and repeat five times, aiming for three sets.
A woman is wearing athletic clothing and is workin

Forearm plank

Planking strengthens the core and puts more consistent, even tension on your abdominal muscles, physical therapist Mary Ann Wilmarth told Men’s Health, adding that your core and abs support your back and spine, so strengthening them helps prevent injury. It requires minimal movement and when done correctly, works on the deep abdominal muscles and recruits the hip, shoulder and upper-back muscles.

To do a successful forearm plank:

  • Place forearms on the floor.
  • Ensure elbows are aligned directly below shoulders and arms are parallel to body at shoulder-width.
  • Firm your shoulder blades into your back and push your heels back.
  • Tighten your abs and keep your body straight.
  • Hold for 15–20 seconds (or as long as you can manage).
  • Rest and repeat three to five sets.

Note: Avoid looking up as it can strain your neck and form.

Sporty man doing plank outdoor

Knee to chest

This stretch helps to stretch your lower back and hip muscles, and can relieve pressure on the spinal nerves by creating space for those nerves as they exit the spine, explains Spine Universe. 

To perform a knee-to-chest:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
  • Bring one knee to your chest while keeping the other foot on the floor.
  • Ensure your lower back is pressed to the floor.
  • Hold this position for 15 seconds, or as long as you can manage.
  • You should feel a slight stretch in your lower back.
  • Slowly lower your knee and repeat with the other leg.
  • Rest and repeat three times for each leg. 
Calm woman with closed eyes practicing yoga, attra

Aim to do these exercises every day – consistency will pay off. Remember not to push yourself too far. Take note of your general posture and avoid carrying heavy objects.

Disclaimer: Always consult your healthcare professional before starting any exercise for back pain. 

Images: iStock