Sixty-five million Americans suffer from back pain and it is the second most common reason for medical visits according to Dr. Michael Roizen, Chief Wellness Officer of the Cleveland Clinic. Americans spend more than $50 billion to remedy their back pain notes the American Council on Exercise. All ages are vulnerable—particularly those aged 30 to 50 years old. Back pain is caused by activities that require frequent bending, lifting heavy objects with improper technique and sudden twisting. Inactive people and those who carry too many extra pounds are especially at risk. Prevention through simple exercises that help strengthen the muscles along the spine and encourage spinal mobility can help you avoid back pain. Here are a few do-anywhere moves:
Bird Dog: Get in an all-fours position on a mat or rug. Align your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Draw your navel in as if you were preparing to sneeze. Retract your shoulders from your ears and keep your neck aligned with your spine. With controlled movement, reach your right arm forward and your left leg back. Keep your arm parallel to your ear and extend through the elbow. Draw your leg up to hip height and fully extend the knee and ankle. Hold for a few seconds and put them back down. Repeat with the left arm and right leg for one set. Perform 10 to 12 total repetitions.
Spine Extension: Lay face first on a mat with your legs hip width and place your hands under your forehead. Inhale and as you exhale gently lift your head, arms and chest off the mat. Simultaneously lift the legs as well and hold for two counts. Be careful to keep the knees extended. You should feel a strengthening in the upper and mid back—never a pinch. Return to starting position. Repeat 10 to 12 times total.
Cobra: Remain in your face first position and place your hands under your shoulders. Keep your feet hip width and grounded into the mat. Gently lift your upper body, keeping your elbows bent alongside your rib cage. Hold the lift for 15 seconds at first and overtime, build up to one minute. Avoid “pushing” with your hands, rather use the strength of your upper back to raise your head, neck and chest. Avoid tilting your head back.
Spine Twist: Lay on your back and bend your knees. Keep your feet planted in the mat. Extend your arms toward the sides of the room, palms face up. As you inhale, drop your knees to the right. For more intensity, place your right hand on your left hip and coax your legs a little more deeply into the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, breathing regularly as you hold. Draw the legs back to center and repeat on the other side.
These exercises are mild enough to be done everyday, or every other day.