Back pain is one of the most common physical complaints our sedentary nation experiences. And even if you aren’t currently experiencing back pain, you likely can remember a time when it put a cramp in your lifestyle - literally.
The good news?
You are most certainly not alone.
With more and more people working from home and staying glued to their couch and desk chair for extended hours a day, many Americans are suffering from sciatica and other back problems.
The surprising truth?
The key to back pain relief is not to simply stretch out the muscles of your low back. In fact, it is essential to build strength in the muscles that surround your spine (upper back, too!) while lengthening the muscles that may be contributing to the tension.
And luckily, you don't need to commit to a complicated yoga routine or some physical therapy to get some relief from your backache.
Check out this simple and effective 5-step exercise sequence for dealing with your low back pain.
1. Cat - Cow
This combo is a staple in yoga, and for good reason. It helps mobilize your spine while activating the extensor muscles that surround your spine (Cow), then stretches your back body and activates your lower abdominals (Cat).
- Start on hands and knees.
- Make sure your shoulders are stacked directly over your wrists and hips directly over your knees.
- Drop your belly down, arch your back, and look forward without shrugging your shoulders. (Cow - Inhale)
- Press into your hands as you round your spine to the ceiling, tuck your chin to your chest, and draw your lower abdominals up and in. (Cat - Exhale)
- Repeat 10-15 times. Move slowly and breathe deeply.
2: Half Split Glides
Tight hamstrings might actually be contributing significantly to your low back pain. By practicing this gliding mobility exercise, you can create more length in your hamstrings while engaging your core. Both are key ways to relieve your back pain.
- Start in a half-kneeling position with your legs hip-width apart, as pictured. Extend your left leg out in front of you. (You may choose to tuck your right toes under for more stability and balance.)
- Flex your front foot and draw your left toes up to the ceiling.
- Without rounding or hunching your back, hinge at your hips and start to lean forward with a long spine.
- Only hinge as far as you can keep a long spine, then return back to the starting position.
- Repeat 10-15 times, then stay in the forward position and breath for 30-60 seconds. Move slowly and breathe deeply. Repeat with your right leg.
3. Sphinx (Press Ups)
Remember how important it is to strengthen your back when working to release back tension and pain? Sphinx Pose (and the optional press up) will retrain your back to support itself, rather than automatically slump and round - aka most people’s default posture.
- Lay down on your belly with your elbows under your shoulders and forearms flat.
- Slide your shoulders down away from your ears and reach your chest forward and up (as shown in the first photo).
- If your low back feels okay here, you may add the press up by pushing down in your hands.
- As you extend your arms, keep your shoulders down and chest lifted.
- Gently lower your elbows back down to the ground.
- Repeat 10-15 times. Move slowly and breathe deeply.
If the press does not feel good, simply stay in the sphinx pose (first photo) and breathe for 30-60 seconds.
4. Half Pigeon
This yoga pose helps release built-up tension in your hips and glutes. Frequent sitting causes these muscles to be weak and tight, which increases the strain on your low back. Release your hips so you can ease up your low back pain.
- Set up as pictured with your front knee directly ahead of your hip.
- Your front knee may be at a 90-degree angle (as shown), or your front heel may be closer to your hip. Choose a position that feels best for you.
- Check and make sure your back knee and top of the back foot are facing down, rather than out to the side.
- Stay tall with your spine (as shown), or start to lean your torso forward to go deeper into the stretch.
- Stay and breathe deeply for 60-90 seconds before switching sides.
Related: A Guide To Practicing Yoga At Home
5. Spinal Twist
This final pose of the sequence requires little effort and allows gravity to help support you into a gentle supine twist. Twisting is one of the capabilities of our spine, yet it is not something we practice daily. By setting yourself up in this gentle twist, you are encouraging your back to release in a way none of the other exercises have yet allowed.
- Lay on your back and pull your right knee into your chest.
- Draw your right leg across your body to the opposite side (as shown) using your left hand to assist.
- Keep your chest facing the ceiling and look up or away from your top leg.
- Breathe deeply and stay for 60-90 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
This 5-exercise sequence is super accessible and takes roughly 10 minutes to complete. You can do this as often as daily, and it’s recommended you do it at least once a week for low back relief and pain prevention.
And if you get through the sequence and need some extra stretches? You can consider adding downward-facing dog and some lunges in at the end.
(Although this is a gentle yoga sequence, as with all new exercise programs, please consult your doctor or get some medical advice prior to engaging in these exercises., especially if you have a history of injuries.)
The 5-Step Sequence for dealing with lower back pain is:
- Half Splits Glides
- Sphinx (Press Ups)
- Half Pigeon
- Spinal Twist
You might also be interested in: The 9 Best Yoga Exercises For People With Desk Jobs