From slouching at your desk to overdoing it at the gym, many everyday activities can lead to back pain. Regular stretching helps protect your back by increasing flexibility and decreasing the risk of injury. Done after strengthening exercise, it also helps prevent muscle soreness.
Technique: Sitting on the floor with your feet wider than your hips, nod your head forward and begin to bend forward by hinging at the hips. Breathe normally. As you go down, draw your chin into your neck. “It feels like you’re rolling down the discs of the spine,” says Margot McKinnon, director of Body Harmonics Pilates in Toronto, who trains Pilates teachers across Canada and the U.S. Slide your hands in front of you along the floor.
“This stretch elongates the paraspinal muscles [the muscles beside the spine], and you may feel it in the hamstrings, calf muscles and the bottoms of the feet.” Your hands should not reach past your toes-you’re not aiming to lie on the floor-and you shouldn’t feel as if your back and spinal ligaments are being pulled. Once you feel the stretch through your back, slowly return to the starting position. McKinnon advises doing this several times daily, after the end of your workday.
Low-back rotation stretch
Technique: Sitting on a chair with your feet flat on the floor, twist your upper body so your shoulders rotate to one side. You can use the chair for support, holding on to get a deep muscle stretch.
Go only as far as you can comfortably. You will feel the pull from your lower back up to the middle of your back. “You may experience a painless crack from your spine, but that’s normal; it’s just the joints opening up,” says Larry Feldman, a chiropractor and the owner of The Performance Health Centre in Toronto. Hold for 20 seconds or six breaths, and return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.
Seated forward bend
Technique: Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Hook a yoga strap or towel around the bottoms of your feet, and leave it there for now. Inhale and reach your arms up to the ceiling. Exhale and begin to bend forward gently by hinging at the hips, and bring your belly down to your thighs. Grasp the yoga strap or towel, keeping your back straight. “You want to lengthen the spine and keep your neck in line with your body,” says Eva Redpath, a personal trainer and the founder of Body Conditioning by Dancers in Toronto. Take another breath and, as you exhale, see if you can bring your upper body even closer to your legs. Hold for between 30 seconds and three minutes. Go as far as you comfortably can, and build from there each time you do it. “Stretch until you feel mild tension, nothing strenuous or painful. Over time, as you practise this stretch, you’ll be able to go down farther.”
Technique: Stand against a wall so your tailbone, shoulder blades and head are all pressed against the wall. Hold your hands at shoulder level with your elbows bent at 45 degrees, and palms facing forward. Slowly extend your arms up the wall, pointing your hands as far up as they’ll go, not moving your tailbone, shoulder blades or head, and keeping them pressed against the wall. “Be slow and controlled, and try to reach as high as you can,” says Scott Tate, a Toronto-based certified kinesiologist and spokesperson for the Ontario Kinesiology Association. Return to the starting position slowly. You should take about five to 10 seconds to reach up, and another five to 10 seconds to bring your arms back down. Repeat from eight to 12 times (if you have shoulder issues, try three to five times). “It’s surprising how challenging it can be,” he says. You’ll feel the stretch across your chest and shoulders, and up your back.