Are you reading this article with your back hunched, shoulders slumped forward and abs sagging? In correct posture, your head should be neutral, meaning your chin shouldn't be angled up or down, but straight ahead. Your shoulders should be down and back away from the ears and your thumbs should point forward or out to the side. Your abdominals should be tight, not “sucked in.” Which direction is your rear pointing? An anterior pelvic tilt causes an increased arch in the lower back and may present the illusion of sagging abs. A posterior pelvic tilt causes the back to flatten, giving that sunken-butt appearance. Lower back pain and neck/shoulder pain are very common. Bad posture causes back pain and will affect your ability to do back pain relief exercises. Read on to learn how you can banish back pain for good.
Strengthen the “Right” Abs
The abdominals consist of four separate muscles. The deepest muscle, the transverse abdominus (T.A.), runs horizontally and serves as a girdle for the internal organs, and it also supports the back. Learning to isolate the T.A. is very important. One way to do this is to stand with your back against a wall. In a neutral position, there should be a slight space between your lower back and the wall. When you tighten the T.A., your stomach will flatten, but your back should remain in neutral. Don’t suck in your gut or shrug your shoulders. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds. A more advanced version of this back pain exercise is performed in a quadruped position (on your hands and knees). Performed correctly, this ab strengthening exercise can help you banish back pain.
The cat-cow stretch is a good exercise to help banish back pain; it loosens the hips and relieves tension and stiffness in the back. On your hands and knees, lift your head and make your back concave for the cow pose. Then arch your back, tighten your abs and tuck your hips underneath you for the cat pose. You might find you have more hip motion in one direction than in the other. Perform this exercise often, but be careful not to strain yourself. Make the motions smoothly and slowly, and don't snap your hips in one direction then the other.
Tight hamstrings are a common cause of back pain because they attach to the pelvis and any tightness affects the low back. The hamstrings become inflexible and weak if you’re stuck at a desk all day, if you sit during a long commute or if you are an inactive man who just doesn't stretch as often you should. A good exercise to banish back pain is to stretch the hamstrings lying supine. A seated stretch can cause strain on the lower back if performed incorrectly. Using a towel, belt, stretch cord or dog leash, hook one foot in the cord and keep the other foot flat on the floor. Pull the involved leg straight up in the air, until a stretch is felt in the back of the thigh. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds and repeat this three times for each leg. Extend the opposite leg if you can for a deeper stretch. Again, this isn't a motion that can be performed harshly and you shouldn't be overextending your leg or causing pain. You should only feel a slight burning in your thigh indicating a good stretch, not pain.
Hip Flexor Stretch
When your quadriceps and hip flexors are tight, in conjunction with weak abs, they pull your pelvis forward, causing pain in your lower back because the quadriceps crosses the knee and hip joint. Kneel on your right knee with your left leg bent and your left foot flat on the floor in front of you. Lean forward and squeeze your right buttock as you do so. You should feel the stretch down the front of your thigh, and into the front of the hip. Switch sides. Kneel on a pillow or towel if your knee bothers you. This stretch to banish back pain can also be done while you lie on your stomach.
As you're reading this, drop your shoulders. Did you realize they were up? Many people hunch their shoulders due to stress, tension or just as a learned posture. A constant slumped-over posture puts the trapezius muscle in a constant stretch position, which over time causes the muscle to tighten up to protect itself.
Stretching the trapezius on a regular basis will help relieve some tension and help prevent headaches. Attempt to bring the right ear to the right shoulder, keeping in mind that your shoulder should not come up to meet your ear. Hold this position for 10 seconds and repeat it 10 times. Hold onto the edge of the chair with your left hand for a deeper stretch, and remember to do both sides.
Open Your Chest
The pectoral muscles, or "pecs," tighten up when the shoulders are carried forward all the time, and as a result of doing too many bench presses and pushups. In a corner, put your forearms against the wall. Lean forward, pushing your chest toward the wall. Feel the stretch across the front of your chest and shoulders. Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat three times. If you do not have an empty corner, the stretch can be performed one arm at a time in a doorway. Don’t lean too far forward; it should be a stretch, not painful.
The muscles between the scapulas (rhomboids) are most responsible for keeping the shoulders in proper alignment. In a seated or standing position, squeeze your shoulder blades together. A maximum contraction will make the shoulder blades touch. Do not shrug your shoulders and do not arch your lower back. Try this exercise to banish back pain in a prone position as well. Place a pillow or a rolled-up towel under your forehead to keep your neck and spine in a straight line. Lift your shoulders off the surface, squeezing your shoulder blades together, then reach for your feet with your fingertips. Squeeze for five seconds and repeat 20 times. This exercise is the precursor to seated or bent-over rows performed in the gym.
Back Pain Be Gone
These stretches to banish back pain can be performed every day, at any time. After about three weeks of consistent stretching, you'll see an improvement in your posture and experience less back pain. However, if you continue to feel back pain, visit your doctor or physical therapist.
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