Feel like you're seeing your chiropractor more than your significant other? Eighty-five percent of Americans suffer from back pain at some point in their lives, so you're not alone.
If you’ve got any type of back pain, you know exactly how crucial the back is to performing even the most basic day-to-day activities. There’s a lot that we do to bring back pain upon ourselves—poor posture, wearing high heels, sitting at a desk all day, driving for long hours, even intense workouts—but there are also a few simple, easy exercises you can do to take care of your back.
So instead of booking an emergency appointment at the chiropractor every time your back acts up, try these four exercises to strengthen your muscles and get rid of chronic pain.
Pigeon and Fire Log Poses: Your hips don’t lie
Sure, your back is bugging you, but a lot more contributes to those aches and pains than just weak back muscles. If you sit all day long, your hips might be the problem. Tight hip flexors are a symptom of sitting in a contracted position for too long, and the muscular imbalance that prolonged sitting creates can pull on your lower back, causing tightness and soreness. If you need to sit for your job, take a break every 40 minutes to stand and walk around. You’ll notice a difference in the stiffness in your hips pretty quickly. Get even more limber hips by stretching out with yoga poses like pigeon and fire log.
Strengthen your back with dolphin kicks
Now that your hips are released and aren’t putting any pressure on your lower back, it’s time to strengthen the two muscle groups that run up and down your spinal column. The erector spinae muscles basically hold you upright, so they’re kind of important to keep maintain a healthy and strong back.
Keep them in top condition with dolphin kicks: To do this exercise, lay flat on your stomach on edge of your bed or on a weight bench with your hip crease along the edge (your legs should be hanging off the side of the bed). Pull your navel up and in to activate your core, and lift your legs straight out so they are parallel to the floor. Think about using your hamstrings, glutes, and, of course, those erector spinae muscles to move your legs. Repeat 20 times, keeping your core strong and activated and your lower back flat against the bed.
Open up your thoracic spine
Wait, what’s the thoracic spine? Your thoracic spine is the upper part of your spinal column, located below your neck and along the area of your ribcage, ending around the middle of your back just above the lumbar spine. When you're hunched over a computer or looking down at a smartphone all day, you place a lot of tension on this area, and it can affect your neck and lower back, too.
The key is to reverse the “hunchback” movement by stretching and opening up your chest. You’ll need a foam roller for this stretch, but a rolled up towel will also work in a pinch. Line up your spine vertically over the foam roller and lie down. As you extend your arms away from you flat on the ground (imagine yourself making a snow angel), you should feel your chest open and expand. Breathe in this heart chakra-opening pose for a few minutes to get the greatest benefits.
Stronger hamstrings = better glutes and less pain
The average person does a lot of sitting, standing, walking, and maybe even a bit of running on a daily basis—all quad-heavy work that can leave a body with muscular imbalances that can cause back pain in the long run. Recoup the strength in your legs by working your hamstrings, the muscles located on the back of your thighs.
A relatively easy exercise that will work your hamstrings, glutes, and abdominal muscles is the deadlift. There are a few different types of deadlifts you can perform (if its you’re first time make sure you’ve got a coach with you!), but all of these movements will activate your posterior chain, the muscles that support the back of your body, and strengthen your spine and improve posture.
You can definitely help alleviate those aches and pains with these exercises, but if you feel back pain after a specific event (like lifting something heavy) back pain prevents you from living a normal life, you should check in with your doctor to make sure there isn't a more serious issue at hand.
Illustration by Karley Koenig