Five Back-Strengthening Stretches and Exercises

Monday, May 8 2017 2:44 PM

Plank Exercise For Back PainOur backs are part of our core, which makes up everything except our arms and legs. Almost every movement that we make can be traced back to our core, which is why it needs to be the powerhouse of our bodies. A strong, well-conditioned back can withstand more stress, and protect the spine better, than a back that has not been conditioned through exercise. Here are five back-strengthening exercises to ensure your back can withstand the pressure we put on it!

1. McKenzie Exercises

These back exercises are named after a physical therapist in New Zealand who found that extending the spine through exercise could reduce back pain. The goal is to centralize the pain in the core back structures rather than treat localized pain. Patients doing McKenzie exercises may minimize or abolish their localized pain which can be either acute or chronic. Always speak with a doctor before performing these exercises as the stretches will be prescribed based on presentation and assessment.

There is a wide range of McKenzie exercises, some of which are done standing up while others are performed lying down. All of these upper and lower back exercises use core muscle contraction and, usually, arm motions to stabilize the trunk and extend the spine.

2. Dynamic Lumbar Stabilization Exercises

With this back exercise technique, the physical therapist first tries to find the most comfortable position for the patient, or what’s known as “neutral” spine. Then, the back muscles are exercised in a way that teaches the spine to stay in this comfortable position. This back exercise requires a doctor’s instruction because the technique relies on the awareness of where one’s joints are positioned. Performed on a long-term basis, these back exercises provide pain relief and help keep the back strong and well positioned.

Lumbar stabilization back exercises are often done in conjunction with McKenzie exercises. Each have their own goal; the McKenzie exercise serves to reduce back pain, and the lumbar stabilization exercise helps to strengthen the back. Dynamic lumbar stabilization back exercises can be hard, and are therefore not always meant for every patient. Always consult a doctor before you start as there may be other less strenuous means of physical therapy.

3. Plank Hold Exercises

Planks work for back pain because they strengthen your core, which, in turn, reduces back pain. The plank can be performed in many different ways: front, side and reverse—each direction engaging a different muscle group. The front plank engages the abdominals, lower back, chest, shoulders, neck, biceps, triceps, glutes, thighs and calves. Side planks help to tone your obliques, which really aids in spine stabilization. The reverse plank places focus on your hamstrings, glutes, abs and lower back.

To perform a front plank, lie on your stomach with your elbows close to your sides and directly under your shoulders, palms down and fingers facing forward. Then, engage your abdominal muscles. Slowly lift your torso and thighs off the floor while keeping your torso and legs rigid. Hold the position for around one minute. Remember, it’s better to hold the plank position for a shorter amount of time with correct form, than to hold the plank longer with bad form.

To perform a side plank, lie down on your side while keeping your legs straight and extended. Next, raise yourself up on your right forearm; your body should form a straight, diagonal line from head to toe. Your hips and knees should be off the floor at this point. You can rest your left hand on the floor in front of you for support, on your hip, or behind your head. Brace your abs and hold for one minute.

For the reverse plank, start out by sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Place your palms on the floor, squeeze your legs and then push your body up into a reverse plank position. Again, keep your body in a straight diagonal line from shoulders to heels, making sure your hips are in line.

Don’t allow the hips, head or shoulders to drop and be sure to keep your hands shoulder length apart. Always remember to breathe and don’t overdo it.

4. Bridge Exercises

Not only does this exercise work the glutes and hamstrings, but it also works the back. Remember doing these bridges as kids? They used to be so fun, and easy, but now it can serve as a functional way to minimize back pain. Short bridges are great for beginners or people with previous back injuries. They gently work your muscles and are a great starting place. To perform a short bridge, lie on your back with your knees bent. Squeeze your glutes and abs and raise your hips as high as you can while still keeping your shoulders on the ground. Hold for one second, then lower down.

Straight bridges are the next step up in the bridge exercises, and it will start working your shoulders as well as your back, glutes and leg muscles. Lie on your back with your legs straight. Place your hands on the floor on the outside of your hips, pointing your fingers toward your toes. Push yourself up onto your hands, lifting the hips up and squeezing your glutes simultaneously Hold for a few seconds, then lower back down.

Next, you can try a full bridge! Full bridges work nearly every muscle in your body, and will get you a strong and flexible back. Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent and your hands on the sides of your head, fingers pointing toward your toes. Push your hips up, rounding your back and squeezing your glutes, abs and leg muscles. Hold for one second, then lower back down. Try to complete two sets of 15 reps.

5. Lunge Exercises

You may be asking yourself, “Shouldn’t I be exercising my back if I have back pain, not my legs?” Well, your leg muscles and the health of your lumbar spine are closely related because of the hips. The more active, stable and supportive your hips and pelvis are, the more stable your lower back will be.

If you have chronic back pain, you may not be able to perform a lunge correctly, so start slow. You can begin practicing by lowering your body to perform a half squat. Hold this squat position anywhere for a few seconds or longer depending on your comfort level. Then, return to a standing position. You should practice this frequently until you find it becoming easier each time.

To perform a reverse lunge, begin by stepping backwards. If you need to, keep your hands on a ledge or a chair in order to remain stable. Next, lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the ground. To take it a step farther, you can try lowering yourself further to a kneeling position.

Incorporate lunges into your exercise routine and you will find that it gets easier. When your legs become stronger, you can increase the difficulty of the lunge by stepping further apart as you lunge or adding weights.

By exercising and stretching your back muscles, you can minimize discomfort in your back while strengthening your core. Always consult a doctor before you start to avoid injury.

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