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Patient education: Back exercises (The Basics)

Patient education: Back exercises (The Basics)

Why do I need to do back exercises? — Back exercises can help ease back pain and might help prevent future back pain. Long term, it is important to strengthen the muscles in your lower back, buttocks, and belly. These are your "core muscles." Stretching exercises are also important to keep your muscles flexible.

Below are some stretching and strengthening exercises that might help you. Other forms of movement can help ease or prevent back pain, too. For example, some people like to walk, do aerobic exercise, or do yoga or tai chi. The most important thing is to move your body. Your doctor, nurse, or physical therapist can help you find different types of activity that work for you.

What stretching exercises should I do? — Below are some examples of stretching exercises. Warm up your muscles before stretching to help prevent injury. To warm up, you can walk, jog, or cycle for a few minutes.

Start by repeating each of these stretches 2 to 3 times. Try to hold each stretch for 5 to 10 seconds, and try to do the stretches 2 to 3 times each day. Breathe slowly and deeply as you do the exercises. Never bounce when doing stretches.

Cat-cow stretch (figure 1) – Start on all fours on the floor, with your hands under your shoulders, knees under your hips, and your back flat. First, tuck your chin and tighten your stomach muscles as you round your back (like a "cat"). Hold the stretch for about 10 seconds. Rest for a few seconds as you flatten your back. Next, lift your chin and let your belly and lower back sink toward the floor (like a "cow"). Hold the stretch for about 10 seconds.

Single knee-to-chest stretches (figure 2) − While lying on your back, bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor. Pull 1 knee toward your chest until you feel a stretch in your lower back and buttock area. Lower, and repeat with the other knee. If you have knee problems, pull your knee up by grabbing the back of your thigh instead of the front of your knee. You can also do this exercise by grabbing both knees at the same time.

Lower trunk rotations (figure 3) − While lying on your back, bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor. Keep your knees and ankles together, and then drop them to 1 side. Keep both of your shoulders touching the floor until you feel a stretch in the muscles at the side of the back. Repeat on the other side.

Lower back stretches seated (figure 4) − Sit in a chair with your feet spread about shoulder width apart. Then, lean forward until you feel a stretch in your lower back.

What strengthening exercises should I do? — Below are some examples of strengthening exercises.

Start by doing each exercise 2 to 3 times. Work up to doing each exercise 10 times. Hold each exercise for 3 to 5 seconds, and try to do the exercises 2 to 3 times each day. Do all exercises slowly.

Shoulder blade squeezes (figure 5) − Pinch your shoulder blades together on your upper back, and hold 3 to 5 seconds. You can also do these 1 side at a time. Sit with good posture, and make sure that your shoulders do not rise up when you do this exercise. Relax.

Pelvic tilts (figure 6) − Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Tighten your stomach muscles, and press your lower back down to the floor. Relax. You should be able to breathe comfortably during this exercise.

Hip lifts (figure 7) − Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Tighten your stomach muscles, keep your back flat, and lift your buttocks off of the floor. Relax. You should feel this in your buttocks, not in your lower back.

What else should I know?

Exercise, including stretching, might be slightly uncomfortable. But you should not have sharp or severe pain. If you do get severe pain, stop what you are doing. If severe pain continues, call your doctor or nurse.

Do not hold your breath when exercising. If you tend to hold your breath, try counting out loud when exercising. If any exercise bothers you, stop right away.

Always warm up before exercising. Warm muscles stretch much easier than cool muscles. Stretching cool muscles can lead to injury.

Doing exercises before a meal can be a good way to get into a routine.

More on this topic

Patient education: Low back pain in adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Upper back pain (The Basics)
Patient education: Exercises for sciatic pain (The Basics)
Patient education: Exercise and movement (The Basics)
Patient education: Exercise and movement as you get older (The Basics)

Patient education: Low back pain in adults (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Back pain in children and adolescents (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Exercise (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jun 02, 2024.
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