Who couldn’t benefit from a more relaxed back? Whether you’re a frequent flyer or an office type, your back could probably use a little TLC.
Back tension comes from a wide variety of sources. Common culprits include bad posture, strenuous exercise, obesity, stress and arthritis. Back problems can also be intensified by everyday threats like smartphone usage, wearing high heels, sitting for a prolonged period of time or sleeping on a mattress that’s too cushy. Back aggravation doesn’t stop there. Back problems often originate in other areas of the body, like the hips, sacroiliac joint (SI joint), hamstrings and glute muscles, setting off an uncomfortable chain reaction. When one of these areas is too tight, it pulls on everything that’s connected to it in order to relieve the tightness. The result is a tense, painful back and limited range of motion in the lower half of the body.
If you’re suffering from intense back pain or extreme tightness and want to determine the cause, seeing a doctor is the best place to start. But if you’re experiencing mild-to-moderate discomfort or mobility issues in the back, there are some simple steps you can take to loosen up and feel relief.
With the majority of adults experiencing back pain at some point in their lives, having a safety kit of pain-relieving practices is a must for everyone. Here are ten options you can start doing right away to rescue a tortured back.
Take Time Out For a Twist
A spinal twist is a simple stretch that helps relax your back muscles as it opens up your hips. When you perform this move, you should feel a good stretch in the low and mid-back.
Here’s how to execute a twist properly:
- Start by laying on your right side.
- Pull your top (left) knee up to a 90-degree angle and use your bottom arm to gently hold that knee down.
- Inhale. Then, on the exhale, gently rotate your upper body to the left as far as you can. As you do so, turn your head so you’re looking over your left shoulder.
- Try to keep your shoulder down on the ground or as close to the ground as possible.
- Switch to your left side and repeat steps 2 - 4 with your right knee pulled up.
Roll With It
Although scientists can only speculate about how foam rolling works to deliver relief, we do know that it works. Foam rolling is an excellent way to release tension, tightness and stress, as well as help speed up recovery time. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to help minimize any post-workout soreness.
The key to foam rolling for back tension is to avoid the low back and instead target the areas around it. For example, focus on foam rolling your hip, glutes and piriformis muscles, which can cause soreness in the lower back when they're tight or fatigued.
When foam rolling, don’t just go through the motion -- make it restorative. To do that, move your body slowly over the roller. The gradual motion gives you an opportunity to connect to your breath and relax. Stop any foam rolling exercise that causes pain, as forcing a move could cause further pain or damage.
Decompress Your Spine
Between the vertebrae of your backbone are spinal disks that contain little pouches of fluid. When we put pressure on the spine, the pouches get compressed, or squeezed. When we remove the pressure, the disks decompress. The idea behind spinal decompression is to create more space between the vertebrae, allowing the spinal disks to expand and the fluid within them to move more freely.
Although it sounds complex, spinal decompression is something you can do all by yourself.
- Every morning, wake up your back with the cat/cow yoga stretch.
- To realign your spine, hold a wall squat for as long as you can.
- Roll your shoulders down and back and hold for ten seconds.
- Child’s pose, a yoga resting position, promotes the elongation of the spine.
- Get a large exercise ball and lie your back across it. Roll your head and body backward, allowing your back to arch.
Bask in the Bathtub
Aside from the “ahhh” effect, soaking in a bath for about 20 minutes can do a lot to ease sore back muscles, especially after exercise or sitting all day. Add some Epsom salt or magnesium chloride salt flakes to the water and let the magic work its way through the skin and into aching muscles. For a pain-relieving upgrade, add five drops of peppermint essential oil. Combining peppermint with lavender essential oil is also a great way to help your body relax and reduce muscle pain.
When taking a salt bath, make sure the water is warm. Hot water can cause muscles to swell, while cold water can cause muscles to cramp. The Arthritis Foundation recommends a temperature between 92 and 100°F. Temperatures higher than 104°F aren’t recommended, especially if you have heart problems.
Fire Up Your Core
Correcting back pain also involves training your body’s powerhouse, better known as the core. Your core is more than just your ab muscles. It’s all the muscles that encompass your midsection, including your glutes (butt), lower back and your hips. Since these muscles work as support for your spine and as stabilizers for the entire body, they have a huge impact on back health. Strengthening your core will not only alleviate lower back pain, but also improve your posture and help you avoid a host of injuries, from disc herniation to runner's knee.
Pilates, glute bridges, forearm planks and hip circles are just a few of the ways to activate the core muscles. Whenever you walk, workout, drive your car or just stand in line at the grocery store, challenge yourself to engage and tighten these muscles. Every little bit counts. Just make sure you don’t tighten your core so much that it hinders your breathing. When sitting or standing, maintain that natural S curve in the spine and think about pulling your belly button in towards it.
When in Doubt, Move
Your body is perfectly designed for movement. Getting up from your chair at work and moving around, every hour or more frequently if possible, is one of the simplest ways to ward off back and neck stiffness. To realign your posture, walk the office hallways, hit the stairs, or explore the outdoors and get some fresh air.
But don’t stop there. To strengthen the body and experience the full benefits of movement, find a before or after-work activity that you enjoy doing and engage in it regularly.
Practice Tension-Free Posture
Poor posture forces your back into an awkward, unbalanced position, resulting in tension and pain. To achieve correct posture when seated, you want to make sure all the bones in your spine line up neatly, one on top of the other. This involves placing your feet flat on the floor and your knees directly over your heels.
If you’re at a workstation all day, these easy tweaks can also promote better posture:
- Place your computer keyboard within easy reach.
- Adjust your chair height so your forearms are horizontal to the desktop.
- Set up your computer monitor so that your eyes are in line with the top of your screen.
- Roll your shoulders back and down and gently pull your belly button in toward your spine. This will not only help strengthen your core, but also help the entire spine come into a healthy alignment.
Go Upside Down
Inversions, a type of upside down yoga move, can be amazing for decompressing the discs of your spine and releasing tension in the neck and the back.
But don’t think for a moment you have to do headstands or handstands. The safest and most accessible way to get upside down is by performing a yoga move called downward dog.
One of the most compelling benefits of downward dog is the way it stretches your lower back, hamstrings and calves.
To get started:
- Place your hands and knees on the floor (table pose). Be sure your hands are directly beneath your shoulders and your knees are underneath your hips.
- Keep your hands planted, tuck your toes under, then press your tailbone up in the air as you shift your weight back into your heels. Your body will form an upside down V-shape.
- Keep your shoulders away from your ears by pressing through your hands and drawing your shoulder blades down your back. Tuck your chin and look back at your thighs.
- To increase the stretch to the back of your body, press your heels down to the ground, while you continue to press into your hands and spread your fingers.
Close your eyes, breathe deeply and allow your head to relax.
Select Your Sleep Position Wisely
We’ve just shown you how to tame back tension when you’re awake. What about while you sleep? Often times, the back pain you wake up with is due to a poor sleep position during the night.
For most people with problematic backs, sleeping on your back is the healthiest sleep position. When you sleep on your back, your weight is evenly distributed and your spine is properly aligned, so you can rest easy and wake up to a pain-free morning. For extra relief, place a pillow underneath your knees. This trick will take the stress off of your spine.
If you’re a diehard side sleeper, you can help your back relax by putting a pillow between your knees. The pillow works to keep your hips, pelvis, and spine in better alignment. If there’s a gap between your waist and the mattress, place a small pillow or rolled-up towel there for added support.
Let It Go -- Naturally
Your back is perfectly designed to support you -- but you’ve got to do your part to take care of it. If you’re suffering from mild to moderate back tension, the best thing you can do is let it go naturally by following these ten tips. You’ll be surprised how well your back responds to a few subtle and simple shifts!
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