Maybe it’s a bit of slouchy posture, or carrying around a kiddo. Perhaps it’s that overcrowded heavy handbag or hovering over your smartphone. Whatever the cause, your back pain is no joke. And you’re not alone in your aches: About 56 percent of American women suffer from chronic low back pain, according to research from Minnesota scientists. Luckily, there are some simple exercises that can ease — and even banish — back pain. The key is to do these exercises early and often.
“It’s important to be proactive about your back pain,” Oren Ambalu, MD, a pain management specialist at CareMount Medical in Hudson Valley, New York tells Woman’s Day. “Addressing pain early on can help prevent it from getting worse over time.”
Read on to learn about the little ways you can ease back pain right now.
One of the most effective ways to prevent back pain from returning is to keep up a regular exercise routine. A 2016 review found that performing moderate aerobic exercises and strengthening deep abdominal muscles can reduce back pain significantly. Exercise strengthens the muscles that support the back and reduces depression, sleep problems and fatigue, all of which can contribute to back pain issues.
A good night’s sleep is one of the simplest ways to prevent — and begin to fix — chronic back pain. Replace your mattress if it’s unsupportive or more than 10 years old, and swap in new pillows for all that are older than 18 months. Set up your snooze space for sleep success, as any additional minutes closer to that 8-hours-a-night will do wonders to combat back pain.
When life is stressful, you may internalize your anxiety and tighten your muscles. Robert N. Jamison, PhD, professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, tells Woman’s Day that can trigger episodes of low back pain or make existing aches worse. The more pain you feel, the more likely you are to cut back on activity, which creates a cycle that’s hard to break. So it’s important to figure out what will help distract and relax you, like some mellow music. In the future, when your thoughts turn negative, employ the de-stressing trick that works best for you.
According to the Mayo Clinic, smoking decreases blood flow to the spine, which may result in a lack of nutrients to the crucial disks that act as cushions between each back bone. Lighting up can also lead to slower healing if you already suffer from back pain. There are several ways to quit cigarettes, if you need a place to start.
Make sure your ears are above your shoulders, and open your chest by pulling your shoulder blades down and slightly toward each other.
Mary Ann Wilmarth, DPT, spokesperson, American Physical Therapy Association, suggests dusting off your beach ball and using it as support whenever you plan to be sitting for long periods of time. Inflate the ball about halfway and place it behind your lower back, in the curve at waist level. When sitting with the ball in place, you should feel an imaginary vertical line tracing from your hips, through your shoulders, to the top of your head.
You can do this protect-your-back move from a standing, sitting, or lying position. The exercise trains your stomach muscles so they can instantly stabilize your spine during a sudden movement — a fall, for example — to help prevent an injury.
If you’re on the floor or in bed, lie on your back. (If you’re sitting, straighten up. If you’re standing, you don’t need to do anything.) Place your arms at your sides. Inhale, and as you exhale, slowly contract your stomach muscles. Hold the contraction for five to 10 seconds (but don’t hold your breath—keep breathing!). Repeat 10 times.
Always check with your doctor before starting an exercise routine.
Hunching over your smartphone or tablet can wreak havoc on your back. Over time, it may stress the muscles and ligaments along your neck, potentially impacting the discs in your spine. Offset the pain from poor posture by bending your head slowly back, forward and to each side three times a day.
Another good move: Lie on your stomach with your hands on the ground by your chest. Press into your palms to lift your chest as far as is comfortable. Hold for a few deep breaths, then come down to start.
Want a more intense stretching routine? Try this one from Gerard Girasole, MD, a spine surgeon, and Cara Hartman, CPT, authors of the new book, The 7-Minute Back Pain Solution. Each of these stretches works your core muscles, which support your back. The stronger your core is, the more it protects your back from strain and pain. Do the following stretches twice a day if you’re having discomfort now, or once a day to help you avoid aches in the first place.
Stand next to a chair or table and hold on to it for balance with your left hand.
Grasp the top of your right foot (or ankle, if that’s easier) with your right hand, and gently pull your heel toward your butt. Make sure your right knee stays facing down and close to your left leg. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.
Stand facing a table or counter, a few feet away. Bend your knees slightly and grasp the edge. Your body should form an L shape, with arms straight and head level with shoulders. Hold for 10 seconds.
Next, stand up straight, place your left hand in front of your body with your elbow bent. Bend your right arm over your head as you lean your upper body gently to the left. Hold for 10 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.