You have a series of bones, called vertebrae making up your spinal column. These are all stacked on one another. From the top down, your spine includes:
- Seven cervical spine bones
- Twelve thoracic spine bones
- Five lumbar spine bones
- A sacrum bone
- A coccyx bone (at the base)
Discs cushion these bones and protect them by absorbing the shocks that day-to-day activities — like walking, twisting and lifting — can cause. When the bones, discs, muscles, tendons and nerves in and surrounding your spinal column are working as they should, you may not think about your spine, neck or back often. They’re just a part of your anatomy. You know your spine keeps you upright, but that’s about all the attention you give it — unless you’re in pain.
Once confronted with pain, though, all your focus is likely on relief, and you seek a doctor’s help to examine your vertebrae and discs, diagnose what’s wrong and get treated.
Two conditions leading to back and neck pain are herniated disc and a bulging disc. People often use these terms interchangeably, but in reality, they are different. Learning about the differences between the two could be extremely beneficial to you if you or a loved one is suffering from one of these conditions.
Neck pain, while often the butt of jokes, is no laughing matter. It can affect your ability to perform even minor tasks if left unchecked. Chronic neck pain can significantly impact your quality of life and your ability to do your job. That’s why it’s essential to find what is the reason for neck pain — and seek a fast, effective solution.
Neck Pain Causes
More than 1 in 10 people have suffered from neck pain within the previous three months, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also reports women are more likely to experience neck pain than men.
Understanding the myriad of neck pain causes makes it easier for you to take preventative steps to avoid neck pain. At the very least, you can determine changes you can make to relieve neck pain once you do experience it.
First, take a look at potential causes of your neck pain, then implement concrete steps to reduce or eliminate their impact.
Neck and lower and upper back pain affect just about everyone at some point. When you’re experiencing painful spine symptoms because of back conditions like a herniated disc or spinal stenosis, it can limit your ability to walk, sit and stand, especially for extended periods. The pain you feel can keep you from being able to work or enjoy everyday recreational activities.
If you’re one of those patients whose degenerative spine symptoms haven’t responded to conservative treatment, such as physical therapy, and your pain is chronic, you may welcome an alternative to open back surgery — minimally invasive spine surgery. This type of less-invasive spine surgery offers you many advantages, including a shorter hospital stay, faster recovery and less pain. In some outpatient minimally invasive spine surgeries, you may be able to go home the same day following your procedure.
Today, knowledgeable and experienced surgeons combined with advanced technology makes spine surgery less invasive, more effective and highly beneficial to patients with back or neck pain. If your doctor is recommending spine surgery, you can learn more about non-invasive spine surgery to see if it’s a good fit for your condition.
Back pain is no small deal — it’s the most reported cause of disability around the world. Thirty-one million Americans are experiencing lower-back pain at any given point in time, the American Chiropractic Association reports. It’s one of the most common reasons employees call in sick, and it’s the second most common reason people visit doctors.
According to a North Carolina study, the number of Americans suffering from severe back pain is increasing over time, rather than getting better. The study defines chronic, impairing back pain as lasting more than three months and limiting daily activities.
The number of patients seeking medical care for back pain has increased from 73.1 percent one year to 84 percent the next, despite overall health care visits remaining virtually the same, the study says.
You can experience many different types of back pain — including lower back pain, upper back pain, sciatica, shoulder pain and even neck pain. These are just a few of the potential causes of back pain you may experience at one or more times in your life:
- Pinched Nerve
- Bulging Discs
- Spinal Stenosis
- Degenerative Disc Disease
- Degenerative Disc Disease
- Herniated Discs
There are many more potential causes of back pain. Some conditions may be severe. For this reason, you should never ignore chronic back pain without seeking a medical evaluation.
When it comes to persistent pain in your back, treatment and care are not one-solution-fits-all propositions. However, not all solutions require surgical intervention.
Consider doing some of the following exercises for back pain to help you find relief from your back pressure and pain. The great thing about these stretching exercises is you can do them at home.
Benefits of Stretching Exercises to Relieve Back Pain
As with any workout regimen, you should work closely with your physician to plan a course of back pain exercises that won’t exacerbate your condition or risk doing more harm than good.
To reap the benefits of exercises for back pain, talk to your doctor about which are the best for your condition. Here’s what stretching can do for you:
- Better circulation: Exercise improves circulation, and circulatory improvements support your spinal discs in getting the nutrients they need.
- Released endorphins: The release of endorphins often occurs during workouts. Endorphins assist in warding off depression, improving mood and relieving pain. As a result, they help you to reduce dependence on pain medications and alleviate symptoms of depression you may experience hand-in-hand with chronic pain.
- Reduced frequency and severity of pain: Well-oiled machinery has fewer creaks and groans than dry-running machines. Exercise is the body’s way of staying well-lubricated because it gets the blood flowing throughout your muscles, joints, tissues and organs.
- Relief from stiffness: Shoes are a good analogy for this benefit. Unworn or rarely-worn shoes are often stiff and uncomfortable. The more you wear them, the more comfortable they become, because the material is worked and stretched over time, making the pair more flexible. The same thing happens to your back as you exercise it — it becomes easier to move.
- Stronger muscles: Specific exercises help to loosen the muscles in your back, making it easier to move. They also strengthen muscles to assist in supporting the spine, which relieves the pressure placed on discs and facet joints.
Besides the above benefits, there is the added payoff of taking control of your pain and knowing you’re making a difference in your long-term health and comfort.
10 Helpful Stretching Exercise Tips to Relieve Back Pain
Before you jump into back exercises for pain in anticipation of the many potential benefits, make sure you follow a few practical pointers. Following advice and advanced tips can enable you to maximize the effectiveness of your exercises. Here are some tips to consider as you get started:
- Consult your physician. To help protect against added pain or risk damaging your back further, conferring with your physician before starting an exercise program should be non-negotiable. In fact, you should not begin until you’ve discussed the types of specific exercises you’ll be participating in and how you’ll go about doing them.
- Always warm up. Before stretching, warm up your muscles. Go for a short walk or even walk in place for a few minutes.
- Wear comfortable clothing. You’re not going to get much out of your exercise efforts if your workout wear is uncomfortable or restrictive. Your attire needs to allow you to have a full range of motion and be comfortable for the duration of your daily exercises.
- Avoid bouncing. Bouncing while stretching is known as ballistic stretching, and it may do more harm than good because it can cause your muscles to shorten reflexively. If you’re suffering from back pain, the last thing you want to do is engage in risky back-jarring exercises. Go for gentle, stretching exercises instead.
- Start small. You don’t have to do it all in one day. The key is to move a little daily and gradually add as your tolerance for the stretching exercises grows. Be sure to perform your stretching exercises regularly for the most benefit.
- Work out on appropriate surfaces. You need to work out on a flat, relatively large surface to allow you proper room to move freely to conduct the necessary exercises. Without adequate floor space, you risk injury or added pain as you seek to twist and turn to avoid obstructions.
- Avoid forcing your body. Don’t engage in painful poses or positions. Stretching to relieve pain should not cause pain or muscle strain — it should be a pleasant experience.
- Hold stretches for an appropriate amount of time. You typically need to hold a stretch for 15 to 30 seconds to experience the muscle-lengthening and range of motion-building benefits the exercises provide.
- Stretch one side at a time. Target one side of the body before moving to the other, but do work both halves. If you stretch only the side causing your pain, you’ll create asymmetry in your muscles, leading to tension in your joints, spine and muscles. Therefore, strengthen and stretch your body as symmetrically and evenly as you can.
- Do the appropriate number of repetitions. Target one side of the body before moving to the other, but do work both halves. If you stretch only the side causing your pain, you’ll create asymmetry in your muscles, leading to tension in your joints, spine and muscles. Therefore, strengthen and stretch your body as symmetrically and evenly as you can.
After finishing your reps, always end with a quick stretch to prevent muscles from tightening too quickly.
Stretching Exercises for Your Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain is one of the most commonly cited forms of persistent back pain. These stretching exercises for lower back pain help to comfortably stretch this part of your body without adding unnecessary pressure to other areas:
- Knee to Chest Stretches. Lie on your back with both knees bent and heels on the floor. Place both of your hands behind one of your knees and pull it inward toward your chest. Pump your knee toward your chest three to four times before releasing and working with your other knee. You can do up to 10 reps on each knee.
- Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch. Begin by positioning yourself on both knees. Move one leg forward so your foot is flat on the floor. Evenly distribute weight on both hips. Put both hands on top of your thigh and lean forward, ensuring your knee doesn’t extend beyond your toes, until you feel a stretch on the front of the opposite leg. Hold the position for 20 seconds then switch legs. Do three repetitions on each leg.
- Two Knee Twist. With this yoga exercise for your lower back pain, lie flat on your back. Bend both knees into the chest. Bring your arms out to form a “T.” Exhale while lowering your knees to the ground on the right side while keeping both shoulders pressed firmly to the floor. Hold the pose for one to two minutes on each side.
These exercises will assist with stretching, strengthening and pressure relief on your lower back.
Stretching Exercises for Your Upper Back
Stretching exercises for the upper back help in more ways than one. They work to strengthen your core muscles, providing more stability. They also encourage good posture, which can help to relieve the strain on the muscles in your back, shoulders and neck. It’s a win for many areas of the body. Here are some helpful upper back stretch routines:
- Arm Slides. You don’t need specialized equipment for this exercise – only a clean wall area. Stand about six inches from the wall. Lean back so your upper body is against the wall. Hold your arms out to form a “T,” then bend them up to a 90-degree angle. Slide your arms up then back down, using your back to keep your arms against the wall. Do five to ten repetitions daily to improve posture and strengthen your back.
- Pectoralis Muscle Stretch. Stand in a doorway. Position elbows just below your shoulders while placing your hands on the doorframe, then gently step through the door. Hold 30 to 90 seconds. Step back through the door. Move your elbows to shoulder level and place your hands back on the doorframe. Step through once again. Hold 30 to 90 seconds, then step back. Reposition your elbows just above the shoulders and repeat the process once more.
Consistency is the key when working with upper back pain exercises. These exercises strengthen your core and are simple enough to do daily in the comfort of your home without requiring any specialized equipment or a significant amount of time.
Stretching Exercises for Your Shoulder and Neck Pain
Shoulder and neck pain are often the result of poor posture, incorrect body positioning or a weakened core. These exercises will not only help to promote better posture and teach proper body positioning, but they can also strengthen the core, improving or reducing back pain in the process. By performing these types of stretching exercises, you can realize the double benefit of relief and strengthening:
- Corner Wall Stretches. Stand facing the corner of your room. Bend your elbows slightly below your shoulder height and place your palms and forearms on each wall. Lean in until you feel a stretch in your chest. Hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Levator Scapulae Muscle Stretch. Resting one arm against a wall or doorjamb with the elbow positioned slightly above the shoulder, turn your head so it faces the opposite direction. Then bring your chin down until you feel a stretch along the back of your neck. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then release.
Remember, you should not feel pain when doing these exercises but a gentle stretching along the neck and/or shoulders.
Yoga Exercises for Your Back Pain
One of the most significant elements of yoga is stretching. Yoga is one of the best forms of stretching for back pain, and it offers many great poses to relieve lower back pain. In addition to the two-knee twist mentioned above, there are some other outstanding yoga poses to aid with back pain, including the two listed below:
- Thread the Needle. Lay on your back with both knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bend the right knee with the outer left ankle to the right thigh. Lift the left foot so your calf is parallel to the ground. Put your right hand between the opening of your legs, then interlace both hands behind your left thigh. Hold the position for one to three minutes before switching to the other side.
- Cat and Cow Pose. Begin on your hands and knees. Inhale while lifting your chest and tailbone toward the ceiling. Exhale while arching your back and pressing through your shoulder blades while dropping your head. Repeat six to eight times in slow rounds.
If you find these poses difficult, try performing them in a heated room as the warmth can loosen tight muscles — just remember to remain adequately hydrated during the process.
These are all exercises for back pain you can do while you are home alone. They do not require specialized equipment and can provide enormous relief for your back pain. Exercise is essential for a healthy body and mind, and it can be a crucial contributor to better back health. Not only can stretching exercises help to relieve pressure on your back, but they can strengthen your core and improve flexibility to aid in preventing future back injuries and pain.
Get a Back Pain Evaluation
Before you begin any of these back pain exercises, schedule an appointment for a complete back pain evaluation with one of our doctors at Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery. We can rule out certain conditions, pinpoint the precise causes of your back pain and work with you to create the most efficient possible course of exercises to strengthen your back, build your core and relieve your pain. More importantly, by talking to one of our doctors, you can learn to avoid exercises that might worsen your condition or your pain.
Start your journey to better back health today with OLSS.
Are you facing an upcoming surgery? Is the idea of your surgery so intimidating that’s hard to think about anything else? That’s an understandable reaction.
Having surgery is a daunting prospect for anyone, so you aren’t alone in having some fears or concerns. Knowing about your surgery far in advance might make you nervous or cause you to dread the day.
Instead of filling the days or weeks leading up to your surgery with fear, why not use those weeks to prepare yourself for your recovery period? You can also spend that time getting ready for surgery — both physically and psychologically.
The idea of preparing your house for post-surgery life is a good one because you might need to make certain modifications in the home. But the psychological preparation is equally if not more important. Your attitude plays an enormous role during your recovery period, and the right preparation can help you develop that attitude.
Science backs this idea up. More than 200 research studies conducted over the past 30 years showed that patients who did some serious psychological preparation before their surgery experienced a whole range of benefits that set them far ahead of the patients who hadn’t done any preparation.