Five Killer Back Pain Combating Exercises

An aching back is the death of a gym membership. Ironically, a sedentary lifestyle is the leading cause of spinal discomfort. Countless jobs revolve around sitting at a computer screen, and often people develop physical issues due to this lack of activity and mobility. Back pain plagues desk dwellers and it’s easy to turn to pain pills and complaints rather than addressing the cause.

Strengthening and stretching can alleviate backaches as well as improve overall athletic ability and everyday comfort. According to Ginna Ellis, renowned sports acupuncturist and experienced Ultra-Trail Runner, “Pain and injuries often stem from muscle imbalances—one muscle is short and tight, and its antagonist is stretched or weakened.”

A proactive approach to exercise and movement may correct these imbalances and alleviate the aches and pains of everyday activity.

1. Kneeling 3-Way Hip Flexor Stretch

The origins of back pain often do not stem from the back itself. Ellis emphasizes that the body is a continuous chain of intricate connective tissue. When one part of the body is atrophied, strained or inactive, the strain reaches major muscle groups such as the back as well.

The hips are likely causes for many types of back pain and the importance of hip strength and mobility is a mystery to most. When sitting at a desk or on the couch, stationary hip muscles shorten and tighten. The kneeling three-way hip flexor stretch provides relief and opens tight hip flexors to improve alignment.

How It’s Done

Lunge forward with the right knee on the ground, the left knee bent forward in an extension, foot flat on the ground. You should feel the stretch deep within your hip flexors. Hold for up to thirty seconds, then extend the front leg left, slightly shifting the right leg to the left and opening the hips. Hold this position for up to thirty seconds. On the final position, turn out the left leg completely left, leaning deep into the stretch. Repeat this set in reverse with the right leg extended, with two sets of ten in each direction.

2. Hip Bridges & Ball Squeeze

Hip bridges with ball squeeze are an easy and effective way to strengthen the hips, as well as engage the rectus abdominis and gluteus maximus. Core muscles are critical to a healthy back, as they offer the foundational support for the spine and the entire upper body.

How It’s Done

Lay supine with knees bent, feet shoulder width apart. Place a small exercise ball between the thighs and squeeze. Pushing with the heels, lift the hips towards the ceiling, squeezing the ball with the thighs. Hold for thirty seconds, then gently steer hips to the floor. Do between two and three sets of fifteen reps.

3. Side Lying Leg Lifts

Side lying leg lifts target the hips and core. Side lying leg lifts engage hip abductors, including the tensor fascia lata, gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus.  J.A. Hayden of The Institute of Work & Health at the University of Toronto, says these muscles stabilize the hips during movements like walking.

How It’s Done

Lying on one side, bend the arm that’s on the floor to cradle the head. Bend the other arm and place it on your hip or on the floor. Bend the leg on the floor at the knee, and straighten the other leg. Slowly raise the top leg, holding for thirty seconds. Do one set of thirty reps per side.

4. Standing Hip Abduction

The standing hip abduction is an excellent way to use the body’s weight to create a resistance exercise. Nathaniel Coleman, champion rock climber and Petzl Athlete, states, “hip abduction exercises facilitate fluid movement on the wall, which is key to unlocking more advanced maneuvers.”

How It’s Done

Stand with feet together, engaging and tightening the core, with the spine in a neutral position. Lift one foot to the side at a 45-degree angle, using a slow swinging motion. Make sure the movement is sourced at the leg, not the hips.

5. Doorway Stretch

An unlikely culprit for chronic back pain is the pectoral muscles. Weak pecs can cause the back to overcompensate and stretch forward to compensate for the tight chest. The doorway stretch is a straightforward way stretch the pecs and engage the subscapularis of the back.

How It’s Done

Facing an open door, stagger feet and place arms at a 90-degree angle outside the door frame. Lean forward, engaging the chest and shoulder muscles, using the door as resistance. Hold for thirty seconds, repeat three times; can be performed daily.