The average office worker spends 17 hours sitting or lying down every day. Commuting, office work, and leisure activities like TV and video gaming all contribute to a sedentary lifestyle, and with 90% of desk job workers spending 5 hours a day sitting, back pain is rife.
Prolonged sitting and back pain go hand in hand, but it doesn’t have to affect your quality of life. Stretches for back pain and exercises for back pain relief can help combat the effects of the modern sedentary lifestyle and keep your back as comfortable as possible.
We have put together this list of exercises for back pain, so you can look after yourself and leave discomfort in the past.
How Sitting Causes Lower Back Pain
One of the leading causes of lower back pain is sitting for long periods of time or sitting incorrectly. Sitting correctly comes down to posture while sitting, something that is greatly supported by a good office chair. The long-term consequences of sitting in a chair that doesn’t support your specific body frame can cause poor blood circulation, pressure on spinal discs and shortening of hip flexor muscles. The latter of which can result in muscle fatigue along with back, neck and shoulder pain.
It’s important to get up and stretch regularly and it’s also important to do appropriate exercises for back pain, but it is also key that we adapt our workspace to fit our bodies, rather than adjusting our bodies and posture to fit furniture. Using an ergonomic chair that can adjust to the position of your body addresses the root cause of lower back pain, rather than simply addressing the symptoms and it can be a great move for the lasting health of your back.
But not all ergonomic chairs are created equal. Some office chairs are far better for your back health than others.
Ultimately, lower back pain is caused by excess stress on the vertebrae and discs, and with good posture, an ergonomic working chair, and regular exercise, it is something you can avoid.
When Should You Seek Medical Advice for Lower Back Pain?
If exercises for pain in the lower back aren’t helping and you have persisting discomfort or pain for more than 2 weeks, or if your back pain is preventing you from taking part in normal daily activities, then you should speak to a doctor, physiotherapist, or chiropractor.
If the pain is severe, seek help sooner. If you’re also experiencing fever, weight loss, weakness or shooting pain in your limbs, or incontinence, seek help urgently.
How Exercise Helps Back Pain
If you’ve got a sore back you may think resting is what you need, but movement is really what will help. Exercises for lower back pain strengthen your back, core, and leg muscles, helping support your spine and relieve back pain.
Regular moderate exercise is integral for back health because it strengthens your back and core muscles, allowing you to hold your spine in the correct neutral position. But according to the South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (SANHANES), only 39.5% of South African office workers get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. Coupled with hours of sitting with unsupported posture, it’s no surprise that 80% of South Africans have experienced back pain.
Exercise has been shown to accelerate back pain recovery and to aid prevention, so even if back pain doesn’t affect you, regular stretches for back pain may keep your back strong and comfortable for longer. In fact, regular stretches strengthen muscles, improve flexibility and mobility, increase blood flow (which can speed up healing) and help you maintain a healthy weight. Gentle aerobic exercises like cycling, swimming, and walking are ideal for optimal back health.
Strong stabilizer or abdominal core muscles are key in maintaining a pain-free back. If your core is weak or tired, the muscles in your back tend to compensate and can eventually become overloaded and painful, so try and incorporate some core exercises into your routine to prevent back pain in the first place.
Lower back pain can hinder your quality of life, but the good news is, whether you’re trying to prevent back pain or treat it at home, there are stretches and exercises for lower back pain to help.
Tips for Back Pain Exercises and Stretches
Safety is vital for all exercises and stretches, especially when it comes to stretches and exercises for your back. So, remember to stretch and work your back carefully. Be gentle and take your time. Be mindful of your limits and don’t overdo it. If your pain gets worse, take a break. It may also be worth consulting your doctor or physio before starting new exercises.
Depending on what caused your back pain and how severe it is, some exercises may do more harm than good. Remember to ask your doctor or physiotherapist before doing any exercise for back pain.
Exercises for Back Pain
The following exercises strengthen your lower back and core muscles without putting unnecessary strain on your back, making them excellent exercises for pain in the lower back.
Lie on the floor with bent knees and feet flat on the floor.
Contract your abs to lift your shoulder blades off the floor. Don’t use your arms to pull your neck off the floor.
Don't lead with your elbows. Keep them flush across your chest or in line with your head with your hands clasped behind your head.
Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
Lie face down on the floor with your arms reaching forward past your head.
Keep your head focused in front of you in a neutral position.
Slowly lift both legs and arms to about 15 cm above the floor. Ensure your lower back, glutes, core, and the muscles between your shoulder blades are engaged.
Hold for 2 to 3 seconds. Make sure you keep breathing.
Gently lower your arms and legs to the floor.
Repeat 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
Lying lateral leg raises
Lie on one side with your arm under your head like a pillow.
Keep the lower leg slightly bent and keep it on the floor.
Engage your core muscles and raise your upper leg. Try and keep the rest of your body still.
Hold for 2 to 3 seconds. Make sure you keep breathing.
Gently lower your top leg and repeat on the other side.
Start with your feet 25 to 30 cm away from the wall, with your back facing the wall.
Lean your back flat against the wall.
Slide down the wall until you are in a squat position.
Hold for 10 seconds and slowly slide back up.
Repeat 8 to 12 times.
Stretches for Back Pain
The following are great stretches for back pain because they can help relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve and between the disks.
Start with your hands and knees on a yoga mat.
Move your knees to the sides of the mat and move your feet to the centre so that your big toes touch.
Lower your body to the mat, so that your forehead rests on the mat and your belly rests between your legs.
Stretch your arms in front of you or behind you next to your thighs.
Relax your shoulders and jaw, and breathe.
Hold this pose for as long as you want.
Start on your hands and knees with a neutral spine.
Inhale and allow your belly to drop towards the mat. Lift your sit bones to continue the convex shape of your spine. Lift your head and relax your shoulders. This is cow pose.
When you exhale, round your spine by lifting your shoulders and rib cage up and tucking your tailbone. Relax your neck and hang your head towards the floor. This is cat pose.
Alternate between the two and keep breathing for 1 minute or as long as you like.
Seated spinal twist
Sit up straight on the floor with your legs out in front of you.
Put your hands on the floor behind you with your fingers facing outwards.
Cross your left leg over your right leg and put your left foot flat on the floor by your right knee.
Cross your right arm over both legs so that your elbow touches the outside of your bent leg.
Turn your chest, shoulders, and head to the left.
Hold and breathe for about a minute.
Repeat on the other side.
Use a chair:
Sit on the chair, keeping one leg planted on the floor, and stretch the other leg in front of you on a different chair.
Reach toward the toes and stretch.
Stretch one leg at a time and don’t strain to touch your toes.
Use a wall:
Lie on the floor with the backs of your thighs and buttocks flush against the wall.
Gently push your knees as straight as possible. This is a great stretch for back pain as it supports your lower back, putting minimal stress on it.
Don’t strain to touch your toes.
Exercises to Avoid If You Have Back Pain
Just as there are exercises for back pain that are great for strengthening your muscles and minimizing harm, there are some exercises you should avoid if you suffer from pain in your lower back.
Toe touches like standing toe touches put a lot of stress on the disks between your vertebrae as well as the ligaments in your spine. It’s important to avoid toe touches when stretching your hamstrings or lower back, so be sure you never strain too much towards your toes, even during exercises for back pain.
Although sit-ups can strengthen your core muscles if done correctly, you should avoid this exercise if you struggle with lower back pain. Like toe touches, sit-ups put unnecessary strain on your disks and ligaments that may be detrimental to your overall back health.
While leg lifts can strengthen abdominal muscles, lifting both legs together is incredibly harsh on your back and core. If your core isn’t strong enough to support this exercise, it can worsen back pain. Rather work one leg at a time.
For safe leg lifts:
Start by lying on your back with one leg straight and the other bent at the knee with your foot on the floor.
Ensure your lower back is flat on the floor.
Engage your core and slowly lift the straight leg up to about 15cm above the floor.
Hold for a few seconds.
Lower your leg slowly.
Repeat 10 times.
Repeat for the other leg.
The SpineAlign Team