The pandemic has made 2020 the year of working from and working out at home. With all of the makeshift home offices and at-home exercise challenges, along with fewer in-person doctor visits, protecting your back has never been more important.
According to the National Institutes of Health, 80% of Americans will experience lower back pain and discomfort during their lifetimes. The key right now is avoiding exacerbating existing back issues or creating new ones while working out or just sitting at a computer.
Pain and stiffness in the lower back that’s worse both in the morning and evening is quite prevalent in my older patients. They may complain that their pain even wakes them up at night or intensifies with too much motion during the day. It can hamper their ability to bend comfortably and do all their favorite activities. While back pain is more common in older adults, many young people also experience spinal discomfort, especially as related to exercise and sitting too long or incorrectly.
Exercises for a healthier back and spine
“Motion is lotion” for the spine, as the saying goes. This means that for people struggling with lower back pain, one of the best strategies is to maintain a regular form of exercise, even just 20 to 30 minutes a day of movement like walking or jogging.
For those looking to strengthen and protect their backs and reduce spinal pain, here are five exercises that can help:
1. Side bends: Sitting in a hard chair with your feet flat on the floor, keep one hand behind your head and, bending to the opposite side, reach the other hand toward the floor. As you lean over, tighten the muscles running along your ribs, waist and hips. Return to your original position and then do the same movement, reversing arms and direction. Repeat five times.
2. Bridges: Lying flat on your back on the floor, bend your knees and place feet flat against the floor. Tighten abdominal core muscles, raising your hips until your pelvis forms a straight line between your knees and chest. Avoid arching your back. Hold for three breaths, then lower your pelvis to the floor. Repeat five times.
3. Pelvic tilts: Lying on your back on the floor, with legs straight in front of you, tilt your pelvis in toward your chest while keeping the middle of your back on the floor. Hold for three seconds and release. Repeat 10 times.
4. Knee pulls: While standing and steadying yourself at a nearby table, slowly bend one knee and pull it up to hip level, holding for several seconds. Then lower and do this with the other leg. Repeat five times.
5. Supermans: Lying face down on the floor with your arms stretched out in front of you — like Superman — raise your head, right arm and left leg about two inches at the same time. Lower and repeat the same movement on the opposite side. Repeat five times.
Pain relief and prevention
Since most cases of back pain can be attributed to mechanical causes — meaning the ache is not caused by infection, fracture or other serious medical problems — exercise is often the missing link that can help resolve the pain.
We remind our patients of all ages that exercise is essential for maintaining bodily health and preventing back pain. Exercises, including those recommended here can both alleviate existing issues with back pain and prevent new cases from occurring.
Kaliq Chang, M.D., is an interventional pain management specialist, double board-certified in interventional pain management and anesthesiology, at Atlantic Spine Center, a nationally recognized leader for endoscopic spine surgery with several locations in New York City and New Jersey. For more, visit atlanticspinecenter.com.