How to tackle lower back pain with exercises and stretches

You’re typing away on your laptop when you feel that familiar twinge: lower back pain.

It might not be much comfort, but this type of pain is super common – and the good thing is that it can be eased through simple movements.

According to Arthritis Research UK, one in six people have back pain of some kind and lower back pain is the leading cause of disability in the UK.

Experts have, quite reasonably, suspected that there could be a rise in cases of back pain due to the pandemic.

With more time spent at home in ergonomically unfit setups, it’s very possible that our backs are suffering.

The exact cause of the pain will vary person to person.

Joe Dale, a registered osteopath and owner of VPS Medicine, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Lower back pain is often a sign of something wrong with the discs between the verebrae in the back.

‘However, the exact problem with the discs can vary depending on the individual.

‘For example, young, active people typically have lower back pain due to “slipped” discs, whereas less active clients are more likely to have pain because the discs in their lower back have become dehydrated or worn out.

‘The same principle applies to muscle injuries, which are another common cause of lower back pain.

‘Active people might strain or tear the muscles in the lower back while exercising.

‘On the other hand, less active individuals can experience lower back pain because there simply isn’t enough muscle in the lower back to support the spine. So the muscle that is present has to overwork and, as a result, gets angry and painful.’

When pain strikes, rest is ‘rarely best’, according to Joe, who adds: ‘Research has shown that the old ideas about resting whenever you experience lower back pain are in fact wrong.’

Being active and continuing to move is an important part of the recovery process.

In minor cases, if you work at a desk for example, standing up every 30 mins and performing some gentle yoga stretches will speed up the repair process of any pain.

Better yet, having a daily routine of gentle strengthening excercises for the lower back can make pain much less likely to occur in the first place.

Stretches and exercises to ease lower back pain

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Little and often is the key to stretching the lower back.

Joe says: ‘The body evolved over millions of years to be used in all its planes of motion.

‘Over the last hundred years, we’ve become very static – the lower back rebels against this by causing us pain.

‘A daily regime can take a few minutes and involves stretching the lower back to the end of its range of movement and holding for 30 seconds to one minute.’

There are six main directions the lower back can move in, and it’s important to regularly stretch in all of them.

These are Joe’s recommended exercises to hit those spots.

Flexing and extending 

A good way to start is with cat cow pose.

Simply get on your hands and knees (ideally on a yoga mat) and start off by arching your back towards the floor, with your bum in the air and head looking towards the ceiling.

Hold this for about 30 seconds.

Then on your next out-breath, bring your chin towards your chest and arch your lower back.

Your bum should be pointing towards the floor and try looking towards your belly button.

Again, hold for about 30 seconds and repeat. Try and repeat this set 3 times.

Side bending

Get into the prayer position by starting on hands and knees.

Sit back on your heels and move your forehead towards the floor with arms stretched out in front of you.

Walk both hands over to the left until you feel a gentle stretch in your lower back and hold for around 30 seconds before walking both hands to the right.

Aim to hold both stretches 3 times.

Rotation

Begin by lying on your back.

Place your arms out to the sides and bend your knees with feet flat on the floor.

Let both knees gently drop on the left until you feel the rotation in your lower back.

At the same time, rotate your head, so you’re looking over the opposite shoulder.

Hold this for 30 seconds before repeating the stretch to the right.

Strengthening

Joe says strengthening exercises are important too.

‘Strengthening exercises are key to reducing the risk of chronic lower back pain. The important thing is to find a routine you feel comfortable with and that you know you will do regularly,’ he says.

‘If you haven’t done much strength training before, it’s best to start by just using your own body weight.

‘A great exercise to start with is the superman lift.

‘Lying face down on a yoga mat, put your hands on your head and then gently try and use the muscles in your lower back to lift your torso off the mat.

‘You might find you can’t lift your body off the mat initially – but that’s fine.

‘As long as you’re trying, you’ll be strengthening the important muscles in the back.’

When should you see a professional about lower back pain?

‘If the pain is affecting your ability to perform regular tasks and affecting your quality of life, you should see a professional.

‘A medical professional such as an osteopath, physio, or chiropractor should be able to tell you the cause of your lower back pain and also give a tailored plan – this may involve manual therapy and exercises.

‘A few tweaks to your daily regime can make a huge difference to the long-term effects of lower back pain.

‘In some cases, lower back pain can be the sign of something a lot more serious, that requires urgent medical attention.

‘Common symptoms include chronic pain at night, changes to toilet habits, and numbness around the saddle area. If you have any concerns, you should seek the advice of a medical professional urgently.’

– Joe Dale, a registered osteopath

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