Four simple stretches for back pain

Moves you can try to alleviate those aches
Published February 18, 2021

Many of us suffer from back pain, and if you’re working from in a less-than-ergonomic setting, you may be dealing with it more often than you used to. But fret not, there are some gentle movements you can try to alleviate those aches and pains.

“Given the hours many of us are spending inside, often hunched over our computers, it’s probably not surprising that back pain is a common complaint,” says Rachel Land, a Yoga Medicine® therapeutic specialist and teacher for Yoga Medicine Online.

“While you might think that rest is the best remedy for your back pain, the muscles either side of the spine can become tight or tender from holding us in the same position hour after hour, and actually benefit from movement and activation,” she says.

Here are some of Land’s favourite moves to reintroduce circulation and hydration to the hardworking tissues around the spine.

Child’s pose: “[This] is the perfect place to start, creating gentle traction down the length of the spine without challenging its patterns too quickly,” Land says. “Start on hands and knees. Bring your big toes toward each other, then lean your hips back toward your heels and allow your forehead to sink toward the floor. Take four or five deep breaths here, using your breath to create subtle movement in your low back.”

Cat and cow: This move is a great way to introduce gentle movement to the spine. “From child’s pose, rise back up to hands and knees. Lift your chin and tailbone as you breathe in, lengthening your front body from throat to pubic bone. Tuck your chin and tail as you exhale, scooping your belly to round your back and spread your shoulder blades. Repeat this flow a few times with the cadence of your breath, mobilizing the full length of your spine.”

Bird dog: This move “rekindles muscular support and stability for the spine,” Land says. “From cat and cow, come to a neutral spine tabletop position. Use the muscles that surround your waist to draw in, like you’ve put on a wide belt or corset. Keeping your hips and shoulders level, reach your right leg back behind you and your left arm out in front of you. Notice how your core muscles engage to keep you steady, and how your back muscles engage to help you lift the arm and leg higher. Take a breath or two here, keeping the sides of your neck long, then slowly return the hand and knee to the floor to swap sides. Do three to five rounds on each side before returning to all fours.”

Low cobra: Last, but not least, this move resets your posture. “From all fours, lower to the floor to lie prone with your hands by your side ribs. Squeeze your shoulder blades toward your spine so that your collarbones broaden. Point your feet and separate your legs to about hip-width. Press your pubic bone forward, as if drawing it closer to your low ribs. Maintain that lower core engagement as you activate the muscles either side of your spine to slowly lift your forehead, chest and shoulders off the floor. Keep the back of your neck long and keep your hands light on the floor. Take a slow breath here, then lower back down to prone to repeat three or four more times. When you are done, press back to child’s pose to finish where you started.”

Do’s and Don’ts

Although movement can help with back pain, it’s still important to be careful when exercising with it.

Don’t overdo it

“While gentle movement and muscle activation can refresh tissues tired from holding the same position for hours, this is probably not the time for intense exercise,” Land says. “Avoid contact sports, activities that involve heavy lifting, fast movement or deep twists.”

Do keep it short and sweet

She says it’s also important to prioritize frequency over duration: “Find a brief and accessible movement routine, like the one above, that feels good for you, and repeat it at least once a day (ideally more often) to give your hard-working back a break.”

Do be patient

“Your back pain probably developed over time, so it may take a little time to show marked improvement,” Land says.

Do listen to your body

“Leave out any movements or positions that create irritation, and rest when you need to,” Land says.

And as for any signs that your back pain may be more serious than just some strained muscles, Land shares this advice:

“The pain of tired or tight muscles will usually feel dull or will improve after some movement or a good night’s sleep. Seek medical advice if your pain persists, or if the sensation you feel is sharp or electrical, if it radiates down your leg, or is accompanied by numbness, tingling, weakness, swelling, fever or difficulty walking. Seek urgent attention if you experience any loss of bladder or bowel control.”