Back pain is said to be one of the worst kinds of pain – it's also one of the most common. If it's getting you down, these simple exercises can help ease your discomfort and get you moving with confidence
Whether sitting at a desk all day at work, doing the weekly shop, picking the kids up from school, cooking supper or bending over the table to help with homework, the catalogue of daily stresses and strains on your back is endless. But just ten minutes of simple exercises can help ease discomfort.
If you have ever suffered from back pain – and it affects people of all ages – you will not be surprised to learn that 31 million days of work were lost last year due to back, neck and muscle problems, costing the UK economy almost £200billion. In fact, musculoskeletal conditions are now the biggest cause of prolonged absence. If you visit your GP with back pain you will most likely be prescribed anti-inflammatory tablets or gel and sent to a physiotherapist for exercises that will not only ease your pain and strengthen your back, but also help prevent future attacks. So why not master them now?
Emma Cranfield, a senior musculoskeletal physiotherapist at the Ramsay Fitzwilliam Hospital in Peterborough who's also a Pilates instructor, has compiled six simple exercises that can be performed at home to strengthen your core and back muscles (see right). They offer a range of stretches to mobilise a stiff spine and introduce people to the idea of engaging the deep stabilising muscles that need to work alongside the muscles that move our spine. These gentle stretches are great for general backache, as they can ease pain straight away.
"Exercise is a vital part of improving and maintaining normal, comfortable back function," says Emma. "Don't fear twisting and bending; it's essential to keep moving. Gradually increase how much you are doing and stay on the go to build up your fundamental core muscles and minimise the chances of back pain and injury.
"A lot of back pain is due to postural alignment problems and if you catch it soon enough and correct the problem with exercise and strengthening, you can avoid future pain," says Emma. "By doing gentle exercises that engage your core muscles, you are building a core muscle foundation. To see the best results, I'd recommend three 20-minute sessions a week, whatever your age."
Emma has devised this set of exercises to help back problems
1 COBRA Good for reversing the curve of sitting. Lie on your front with your palms on the floor and arms at chest height. Push your arms straight. At the top of the movement breathe out and let your hips relax, hold for 2-3 seconds. Repeat 10-12 times.
2 HIP TWIST Good for spinal mobility Lie on your back, squeezing a cushion between your knees. Roll your knees to one side as far as is comfortable. Gently look the opposite way and breathe in. Bring the knees back to the centre, letting the stomach muscles initiate the movement. Drop the knees to the other side. Repeat 2-3 times.
3 ONE-LEG STRETCH Good for spinal strength and stability Position your pelvis in a level position with your knees bent. Draw your belly button towards your spine. Keep this position while you straighten one leg away from you. Breathe out while you make the leg straight and breathe while you bend it back. Repeat 2-3 times.
4 CHILD'S POSE Good for lumbar (lower back) and thoracic (the middle part of the spine) mobility. Position yourself on your hands and knees with your hands below your shoulders. Gently lean your weight back onto your knees and heels. Feel the stretch in your spine and shoulders. Hold long enough to relax and enjoy the stretch.
5 SHOULDER BRIDGE Good for the spine and mobility Lie on your back with your pelvis flat and knees bent, then squeeze your buttocks. Visualise your spine as a row of beads and lift up bead by bead from the base until you are resting on your shoulder blades. Hold and breathe in; breathe out as you lower the pelvis back to the mat bead by bead. Repeat 2-3 times.
6 HIP TWIST TWO Good for spinal stability. Lie flat with your pelvis level and knees bent. Draw your belly button towards your spine. Now let one leg roll away to the side, keeping the other knee still. Breathe out as the leg falls and inhale to bring it back. Repeat 2-3 times.