From sedentary office life to CrossFit, many individuals suffer from back pain on a daily basis.
Regardless of its cause, many treatments such as chiropractic adjustments and massage can help you feel better. However, all of these treatments require you to depend on someone.
The truth is that there is a better solution. There are exercises you can do at home so you can help yourself alleviate some of the pain without having to depend on anyone.
Before we start, we have to set expectations.
These exercises are generic and known to help to improve your symptom experience. However, without professional advice on which are most suited for you as well as the right amount or frequency to do given your unique situation, it is very unlikely doing these exercises alone will be enough for you to experience complete pain resolution.
Lastly, when in doubt, always seek professional help!
Hip circles and resistance band squat
Robert J. Brodey, a Toronto-based writer and photographer, highly recommends the hip circle for back pain. He said that with the exercise, his back pain literally vanished within a few days.
Indeed, hip circles is a great movement to introduce movement to the lumbopelvic region. However, don’t count on it being a end-all pain solution.
Here’s the steps on how to do the hip circle exercise:
- Position the resistance band just above the knees.
- Warm up by walking forwards and backwards.
- Continue with walking side to side.
- To increase the intensity, squat with your legs slightly pressed out to feel the burn in your glutes
Lower back rotation mobilisation
Research has indeed shown that spinal manipulation and mobilisation can help with back pain. Our pet peeve? You have to keep going back to a chiropractor or physiotherapist to receive these treatments.
The good news is that you can do your own exercises to achieve similar effects. Sure, you won’t be getting any ASMR-cracking sounds. Nonetheless, your pockets will be thanking you for that.
- Lie on your back, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor.
- Roll your bent knees to one side while keeping your shoulders firmly on the floor. Do this while turning your head to the opposite side.
- Hold the position for 5 to 10 seconds. Be sure to stay within a comfortable range aka you don’t want to be pushing the end range!
- Gradually return to your start point and repeat on the other side.
- Repeat each mobilisation 2 to 3 times, taking special consideration to not overdo it.
You don’t always need to work directly on the lumbar spine for you to get results for your aches and soreness. The glute bridge, as the name suggests, primarily challenges your buttock and hamstring muscles.
Despite the focus on the lower limb, many pain sufferers have reported it to help alleviate their symptoms.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent. Make sure you can touch your heels with your fingertips.
- Push your heels down on the floor. Squeeze your glutes. Raise your hips until your shoulders, hips, and knees form a straight line.
- Hold this position for approximately six seconds. Be careful to avoid the pushing into the painful range. It will very likely to aggravate your spine and lead to more pain.
- Bring your hips back to the floor slowly and rest for about 10 seconds.
- Bridges should be repeated eight to twelve times.
Cat-camel / cat-cow mobilisation
Very popular among yoga practitioners, cat-camel and cat-cow are also great movements to increase spinal mobility.
- Get on your hands and knees in a crawling position.
- Slowly arch your back, as if pulling your stomach up toward the ceiling.
- Gradually sag your back and abdomen toward the floor.
- Return to your starting point.
- Repeat 3 to 5 times per day, twice a day.
Core strengthening partial crunches
This exercise helps build lower back and core strength. It may be painful for patients whose spines are not tolerant of flexion movements. If that’s the case, be sure to start with bird dog before circling back to this.
Here’s how to maximise its effects:
- Lie back with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent.
- Position your hands behind your head or arms crossed across your chest. If you can’t maintain a neutral back position with this, you can place your hands behind your lower back.
- Raise your shoulders from the floor. Be sure to maintain a tight grip on your stomach muscles.
- Take a deep breath out and raise your shoulders. Avoid using your elbows to lead (or yanking your neck off the floor with your arms).
- Hold it for one second. Then, in a controlled manner, lower yourself back to the floor.
Thoracic spine shoulder blade squeezes
Yes, this exercise doesn’t directly work your low back! For more severe low back pain cases, it may be challenging to directly introduce movement or load to your lower back. For these cases, the thoracic spine is a great place to start.
Once you start to feel better, you may gradually move to more lower back or lower limb specific exercises.
- Stand or sit on a stool or a chair
- Pull your shoulder blades together while maintaining good posture.
- Hold for five seconds before relaxing.
- Repeat 3 to 5 times per day, twice a day.
Forward bend and round backs elephant walk
If your spine has a history of being intolerant of flexion (i.e., bending over), this is a great exercise to help your spine get used to being in the rounded or forward bended position.
While many people would demonise rounded backs, there’s no research to suggest that they are bad for you. Most, if not all, of the bad posture narratives are not based on science.
Furthermore, research can even show that lifting with a round back is not bad for you!
- Start by standing with both feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly.
- Then slowly bend down, with your arms gliding through your legs up to your feet, as if these are the elephant’s trunk, hence the name.
- Now, tuck in your fingertips under your toes. If you cannot go this far, you can lay your hands on your shins.
- Then slowly straighten one leg after the other as if you’re walking in place like an elephant.
- Do 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps per side.
Isometric wall sits
You don’t always need movement or weights for an exercise to be useful. Exercises without movements (i.e., just holding a static position), are referred to as isometric exercises.
Iso- meaning same while metric refers to length. This refers to the tissue being at the same length throughout the exercise.
If you find that your back hurts with movements, this is a great exercise to gradually get you back to moving again.
Take note: if you have knee pain or history of knee pain, this exercise may cause your knee pain to flare up. Do go easy (e.g., don’t hold as long, start with a more upright position) if needed!
- Stand with your back against a wall.
- Slowly squat while keeping your back leaned on the wall.
- Hold the position for a count of ten, then carefully slide back up the wall.
- Repeat this 8–12 times.
McGill’s bird dog
Stuart McGill is one of the world’s most respected spine researcher. While is biomechanical approach to pain has fallen out of popularity with advances in pain science, the exercises he created are still wonderful for pain sufferers.
The bird dog is a fantastic trunk stability and range of motion exercise that is well tolerated by patients with spinal pain. It not only works your low back but also involves your upper and lower limbs to give you very good results.
It is common for people to overcomplicate this exercise by excessively focusing on form and bracing your core. You will be happy to hear that this is not necessarily, and likely to not yield extra results.
- Get on your hands and knees in a crawling position,
- Lift and extend one leg behind you and the opposite arm in front of you while keeping your hips level to the best of your ability.
- Keep that position for five seconds.
- Now move on to the other arm and leg.
- Repeat eight to twelve times for each leg. Experiment with holding each lift for a longer period of time for an added challenge.
- Maintain your position—do not raise your arms or legs any higher than your low back can support.
Pelvic tilts (aka basic twerking)
Affectionately referred to as twerking by some clients, pelvic tilts keep the spine moving. As the saying goes, motion is lotion!
What we love about this little mobility exercise is that you can do it sitting, standing, and even walking!
- Lie on your back and upper body on the floor, with knees bent while maintaining a flat foot on the floor.
- Pull your stomach in. Imagine your belly button being pulled toward your backbone to keep your stomach tight. This will cause your hips to rock back as your back and spine press into the floor.
- Hold this position for 10 seconds, allowing your breath to enter and exit your chest smoothly.
- Repeat the pelvic tilts eight to twelve times.
What if exercises do not work for me?
According to the latest research and clinical guidelines, exercise and education is the best thing you can do for yourself.
Yes, it is possible that you are not getting results from your self-directed recovery. This is not surprising because the best recovery outcomes often come with professional help.
Back pain can indeed be a debilitating condition. However, it is important to know that even in all the suffering that comes with the condition, there is always something you can do for yourself to help yourself.
Not happy with your current condition? Reach out to us to find out how we can help you help yourself find freedom from pain.
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Frustrated by the lack of results-driven and ethical chiropractic clinics in Singapore, Chiropractor Jesse Cai found Square One Active Recovery to deliver meaningful and sustainable pain solutions.
Our goal? To make our own services redundant to you.
*We do not offer temporary pain relief such as chiropractic adjustments, dry needling, or any form of soft tissue therapy.