Modern life should be a walk in the park, full of conveniences designed to take the strain of back-breaking labor of the not-so-good old days. Daily living is set up to ensure efficacy and productiveness; from ready meals to remote working. As a result, we generally have much less physically demanding lives.
Yet, nearly everyone has or knows someone suffering from back pain, and it’s not the après workout pain we all know and love. This pain in the lumbar spine region (lower back) can be a result of injury, disease, or even without any obvious cause (known as non-specific pain).
Having escaped the yoke of physical labor, most of us sit at desk jobs, hunched over computers. Instead of walking to work, we sit in our luxury SUVs and drive. At home, we slump on our soft, comfortable sofas and stare at electronic devices. This all takes a toll on our bodies, including posture, weight gain and back pain.
Back pain was once the domain of the aged, however our sedentary lifestyles have broken down that generational barrier. It is no longer uncommon to hear 20-somethings complaining of their bad backs which they haven’t blown out on heavy *ss deadlifts. No, these are keyboard warriors, much more Big Bang’s Sheldon Cooper than eight-time Mr Olympia winner Ronnie Coleman.
When presented with back pain, doctors diagnose nearly half of people with sciatica. This is due to the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in the body, running down the back of the pelvis, the buttocks and legs to the feet. Irritation and or compression of this nerve can lead to sciatica.
Degenerative disk disease (aging) and piriformis syndrome (where the piriformis muscle located in the buttocks spasms) can also cause nerve irritation or compression. However, slipped or herniated disks are more likely to be the cause of a diagnosis of sciatica. This can sound a death knell for those who like to keep fit, as many doctors advocate rest and avoiding physical activity.
Knowledge is power and knowing how to prevent and treat lower back pain is essential. To get to the bottom of any back pain it is always best to consult a professional to diagnose or rule out sprains, fractures, arthritis, spondylolisthesis (a condition where the vertebrae in the lower back slip out of place) and other conditions. However, even with a diagnosis of sciatica, all is not lost.
Even if your sciatica is from piriformis syndrome, there are ways to help yourself that don’t just include painkillers and TV box sets. There are exercises to improve back flexibility and core stability, which translates into improved back health. They are easy to perform and even if you don’t have sciatica, can help to keep your back in prime condition.
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Always seek medical advice if you are suffering from back pain before starting these stretches and exercises and stop immediately if you feel any pain.
1. The Standing Back Twist
A great exercise for those in pain and finding it difficult to bend. Place one foot on a sturdy chair, keeping thigh parallel to the floor. Place opposite hand on knee with palm facing outwards (left hand on right knee) and other hand on hip. Keeping hips facing forwards, turn upper body in direction of open palm. Hold position for 30 seconds each side.
2. Child’s Pose
Get down on floor, rest buttocks on heels and stretch arms out, palms facing down. Lengthen yourself from hips to fingers, to get forehead on the floor. If hips are tight, keep knees and thighs together. Also, place a towel under forehead or between calves and thighs to ease tightness if needed. Stay in this position while comfortable or for at least one minute.
3. Cat-Cow Pose
Begin on hands and knees on the floor, knees under hips, wrists under shoulders, spine in neutral, and core engaged. Inhale and slowly drop belly towards floor while lifting the chest and head, and hold for about 10 seconds. Return to start position and tucking chin to chest, relax abs and round the spine. Again, breathe deeply and hold for around 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times or for up to two minutes.
4. The Knee Raise
Lie on floor and keeping one leg straight, bring other knee close to chest. Hold for 30 seconds and switch. Keep shoulders on the floor at all times.
5. Two Knee Twist
Lie on back, spreading arms to create the capital letter T. Inhale and bring knees to the chest. Exhale and lower knees to the ground on right side, if the left shoulder begins to lift, take knees further away from right arm. Keep shoulders on the floor at all times and hold for about 60 seconds. Repeat on the left side.
6. Single Knee Twist
Lie on back, spreading arms to create the capital letter T. Inhale and leaving left leg straight, bend right knee in right angle and bring it to chest. Placing opposite arm on outside of thigh knee, look across at the left arm as you twist. Breathe and hold for up to 60 seconds. Repeat on other side.
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7. Twisted Lunge
Take a big step forward into a lunge, knee bent and behind toes, keeping back leg straight. Keep feet one leg’s length apart. Twist back placing opposite elbow outside bent knee and bring palms together. Hold for 30 seconds then repeat on other side.
8. Seated twist
Sit on floor with legs straight ahead, bend left knee over right leg, placing foot flat on floor. Your flexibility will determine whether the right leg stays straight or bends at the knee. Place left hand on the floor behind you and right elbow on outside of left knee. As you breathe in twist to the left, keeping hips and legs facing forward. Hold for up to 60 seconds and change sides.
Check out the following clips for others ways to ease lower back pain.