Woman with Back Pain
Healthy Eating and Exercise

6 Exercises and Stretches That Can Help Prevent Back Pain

Back pain is so common it affects almost everyone at some point in their lives. Men and women both get it; it can happen when you’re young or old; and couch potatoes as well as athletes suffer from it occasionally. In most cases, back pain goes away on its own in a few days.

For many who have back pain, the last thing they want to do is exercise. However, lying in bed for long periods of time can leave you weaker which can make your back hurt worse.

The best way to avoid back pain is by keeping your back, and all the muscles that support it, strong and flexible.

These gentle but effective exercises can do just that. Those who are overweight are much more likely to have back pain. If you are overweight, you may benefit from a program of vigorous exercise. Talk to your doctor about what kind of exercise is right for you!

1. Pelvic Tilt

Pelvic Exercise

This goal of this warmup exercise is to put your back and pelvis in the ideal neutral position, which can relieve pain and help you move the rest of your body better.

Lay on the ground with your knees bent and your hands on your lower abdomen. Your back probably has a slight arch to it: notice how this feels.

  1. Pull your abdominal muscles in. Imagine you are trying to suck your navel towards the back of your spine.
  2. Move your hips up as if you are trying to “tuck” your pelvis underneath you.
  3. Relax your lower back. Your back is now supported by your abdominal muscles, with only a slight curve. This is neutral spine.
  4. Hold for up to 10 seconds, then return to the original position.

Now that you know what neutral spine feels like, try to recreate it through the rest of the exercises. Concentrate on your breathing: besides the back benefits, this exercise is a great way to cope with stress.

How many: Start out with 10 tilts.

How often: You can do these every day.

2. Quad Stretch

Stretch Exercises

If you work at a desk job or sit for long periods of time, the muscles at the front of your legs (the quadriceps or quads, for short) may become tight and short. This can create more stress on your lower back. Loosening up these muscles can relieve this tension.

  1. Reach behind you, grab your right shin with your right hand, and bring it toward your buttocks. Hold onto a piece of furniture with your left-hand for support.
  2. Hold your core in tight and don’t let your back arch.
  3. Hold for 15 – 30 seconds, then stretch the other leg.

If you’re not very flexible, try this stretch on the floor. You should feel a deep stretch in the front of your leg, from your groin to your knee. Stop if you start feeling it in your back.

How many: 2 or 3 on each leg.

How often: You can do this stretch every day.

3. Knee to Chest Stretch

Knee to Chest Exercise

This stretch can help loosen the muscles in both the front and back of the hips, the groin, and lower back, and it will help your range of motion. The key to getting the most benefit from this stretch is to keep your back in a neutral position. A gentle arch is ok, but you should hold your abdominal muscles tight.

  1. Lay on your back.
  2. Bring your right leg up and bring your knee to your chest. Hold for 15 – 30 seconds.
  3. Return to original position.
  4. Repeat with left leg.

If you can’t get your knee up very high, don’t force it. You can only go as far as you can go! But if you practice this stretch regularly, you’ll be able to get a deeper stretch that can help to loosen up your back and hips.

How many: 3 to 5 on each leg.

How often: You can do the stretch every day.

4. Cat-Cow Stretch

Animation of Back Stretch Exercise

This exercise can help make your entire spine, from your hips and lower back all the way up to your shoulders and neck, more flexible.

  1. Start by getting down on all fours. Your knees should be about hip distance apart and your hands should be as wide as your shoulders. Your stomach should be firm, as if you’re trying to suck your navel to your spine.
  2. Inhale and tilt your pelvis back so it sticks up. Keep your abs tight but drop your belly down.
  3. Move your head up like you are trying to look up at the ceiling, but don’t strain your neck.
  4. As you exhale, draw your belly to your spine and round your back. You should look like an angry cat with an arched back
  5. Inhale and move back to the ‘cow’ part of the pose.

How many: 10 complete cycles going from cat to cow.

How often: You can do this stretch every day.

5. Bridge

Bridge Stretching Exercise

This exercise is excellent at strengthening all of the muscles in your abdomen and hips that support your back.

  1. Lay flat on the ground with your knees bent and your toes facing forward.
  2. Use the big muscles in your buttocks (the glutes) and the backs of your legs (hamstrings) to lift your hips up off of the ground.
  3. Push your heels to the floor and squeeze your abdominal muscles tight. Hold for two seconds.
  4. Return to the floor.

Don’t turn your head while in this position and don’t try to make this a backbend, which will put more pressure on your spine. Keep your back as relaxed as possible. Imagine a straight line going from your chest to your knees.

How many: Repeat 8 to 12 times.

How often: Two or three times a week.

6. Quadruped/”Bird Dog” Exercise

Leg Stretching Position

This exercise will help you improve your balance and posture. It will also help strengthen your abdominal muscles and the muscles in your back that stabilize your spine. It may not seem like much, but this exercise works many of your body’s major muscle groups.

  1. Start on all fours, with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Distribute your weight evenly, hold in your core, and keep your back flat.
  2. Gently extend your right arm forward. Imagine you are trying to grow long, starting from your shoulder blade. Stretch through your fingertips.
  3. Extend your left leg out behind you, turning on the muscles in your buttocks and hamstrings to keep the leg up, and point your toes.
  4. Steady yourself by holding your stomach muscles tight. Hold for two seconds
  5. Return to center.
  6. Start on the other side, extending your left arm and right leg.

How many: Repeat 8 to 12 times.

How often: Two or three times a week.

Get the Most from Your Efforts

The key to getting the most from these exercises is to keep them within your range of motion and ability to control the movements. Move gently and never force your body to go beyond it’s limits. The more you do these exercises, focusing on correct posture, the easier they will be for you.

If any of these back exercises cause pain or make pain worse, stop doing them immediately and call your doctor.

Only Attempt These if You’re Not Suffering Pain

If you have back pain that has gotten worse over a few weeks, pain from a trauma or injury, or back pain that has been joined by numbness or tingling in your arms or legs, see a doctor. Call us at (888) 499-9303, we offer primary care and specialty care to support you and your family.

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6 Exercises and Stretches That Can Help Prevent Back Pain