Mind & Motion

Exercises to Support Lower Back Tension

Posted in Fitness Tips by Meghan Pickrell on June 24, 2010

I recently wrote this article for Livestrong.com. Once the editor reviewed it, he had some revisions so the published version is quite different. Anyway, I figured I would post my original article on Mind & Motion.

It’s very challenging to write a general set of exercises designed to “treat back pain,” which was my original assignment. As a practitioner I find that helping people to understand alignment, body-mechanics and a sense of weight is very individual. These concepts plus conditioning usually help people better understand the root of their pain.

You can try these series of exercises at home. If anything is uncomfortable, please don’t continue. This list is quite general so if you are having chronic back pain seek out advice from a professional somatic practitioner. I may take a client through some of these exercises if they are complaining of back pain to see how the body responds. Please feel free to comment with any questions. Thank you!

Finding Alignment
Lying on a cushioned floor with bent legs, feet flat about 1.5′ from your trunk, notice which parts of your back come into contact with the floor. Ideally, your sacrum, mid-thoracic and head should be grounded, creating a “neutral” spine. Nudge around and feel the ground. If you are unsure about your alignment an anatomy book is a good reference. Your spine should have the natural “S” curve shown on an anatomy chart. Make sure your lower back and neck are lifted away from the ground. Lie in this position for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Pelvic Rocking
Once you have your spine aligned and symmetrical see if you can begin to gently rock your pelvis, using your feet and legs for support. Without moving your feet in space, gently pull your feet toward your rear. The pulling sensation should gently rock your pelvis forward so that your tail bone grounds. Then press your feet away from your rear. This should lead to an opposite movement in the pelvis, allowing your mid-back to ground. Repeat this rocking forward and backward about 20 times.

Spine Twist
Come back to the neutral position. From there try and rock side-to-side. Keeping your knees bent, gently lean your legs to the right and left so that your opposing hip lifts toward the ceiling. Move slowly. Creating a gentle stretch and rocking motion is more important than distance. Your knees should not touch the ground. Make sure you upper back and shoulders stay grounded. Repeat 20 times.

Glute Stretch
Crossing one leg over the other at the knee, gently lift both legs toward your chest. Grab hold of your knees with your hands. Keeping your pelvis grounded if possible, gently pull the thighs toward to your chest. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

Lying with bent knees in the neutral position, lift one foot off of the ground. The thigh will lift until perpendicular to the floor. The shin should be perpendicular to the thigh. Hold the pelvis stable as the leg moves through space by grounding the mid-spine and sacrum. Lower the leg and repeat on the other side. Alternate 10 times. Once accomplished with this movement, start with both legs in space and lower one to the ground at a time.

Hamstring Stretch
This exercise involves a prop such as a towel or exercise band. Starting in the neutral position, place one foot into the band. Straighten the knee and lower the leg to the ground. Hold onto each side of the band with both hands. Holding the pelvis stable, lift the straight leg until you feel a stretch in the back of the leg. The front of the leg should contracted. Hold the stretch about 2 seconds and then lower the leg to the starting position. Repeat 10 times on both legs.

Lie in the neutral position, this time with straight legs. Notice your breath. See if you can allow your inhalation to move down toward your belly. Inhale for six counts and exhale for six counts. Gently rotate your legs in the socket, internally and externally so that the toes touch and then fall apart. Repeat for about one minute creating a rocking motion in the legs. If any of these exercises cause pain do not continue and seek professional help. These exercises are intended to increase mobility and decrease muscular tension in the back.

2 Responses

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  1. Renee Wachter said, on October 19, 2010 at 4:50 am

    How does stretching the hamstring help lower back pain?

  2. Meghan Pickrell said, on October 20, 2010 at 2:45 am

    Thanks for your question Renee! Stretching the hamstrings helps create mobility in the hip joint, specifically in hip flexion. When we properly access our hips through an active range we are less dependent on spinal mobility in order to perform essential tasks of daily life. When our hamstrings are tight it pulls on the pelvis and can over- stretch the low back. This battle between the hamstrings and low back can be quite uncomfortable, particularly when we have a limited range in the hips. Therefore, proper ham stretching can greatly increase hip range, leading to less reliance of spinal flexion and increasing support of the lumbar. I hope this helps! Thanks! Meghan

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