Low back pain exercises: Sequence 3

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This sequence is designed for people with mild to moderate non-specific lower back pain. Some of the exercises may not be suitable or contraindicated for people with spinal discopathies such as spinal fusion, herniation, spondylosis, spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis and severe osteoarthritis. Please consult with your doctor before doing this program.

This practice is designed to be done when your lower back pain is mild and you have regained more mobility.

Some guidelines for practice:

  • Stay within a tolerable range of sensation. It is normal to feel some tension or discomfort as you explore stretching into muscles that are tight or in spasm. However, feel free to skip any movements or postures that are too intense or create sharp pain. If you imagine an intensity scale of 1-10 (1 being very mild sensation levels, 10 being very intense), we recommend staying below a level 6.
  • If you have taken medication for your back pain such as painkillers or anti-inflammatories be aware that this can dull your sensitivity to pain. It is therefore very important to stay within a suitable level of intensity and sensation so as to avoid over-doing it.
  • Be mindful of your breathing as you practice, as this is the key mechanism for helping to relax the body and reduce tension. Try to stay connected to a relaxed abdominal breath throughout. The belly should gently rise as you breathe in, and fall as you breathe out.
  • This practice is gentle enough that it can be done 2-3 times throughout the day.

1. Wind-removing pose flow

  • Start lying on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor. Take a few moments to connect to your abdominal/diaphragmatic breath.
  • Inhale, and as you exhale bring your left knee into your chest holding on to it with both hands. Take 2-3 breaths here, you have the option to straighten your other leg if flexibility and comfort allows in the lower back.
  • Inhale, now reach both arms towards overhead. Keep the back bottom ribs on the floor, avoid overarching in your lower back. You can keep your knees bent or if you can maintain a neutral spine, reach legs out straight.
  • Exhale, bring your right knee into your chest holding on to it with both hands (image not shown). Take 2-3 breaths here, you have the option to straighten your other leg if flexibility and comfort allows in the lower back.
  • Inhale, again reach both arms overhead with the option to straighten your legs.
  • Exhale bring both knees into chest and pull in, bending your elbows. Hold for 2-3 breaths.
  • Inhale, again reach arms overhead with the option to straighten your legs.
  • Repeat the cycle 2-3 times.

2. Spinal rotation flow

  • Start lying on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor and your arms out to the side in a T position with the palms facing down.
  • Inhale, and as you exhale let both knees move gently over to the right side, keeping the left upper back and shoulder on the floor. Inhale come back to center. Exhale let the knees move to the left, keeping the right shoulder on the mat. Inhale bring the knees back to center.
  • Repeat this movement 5 times in each direction. On the last twist hold the pose for 5 breaths on each side. Stay within a pain-free range of motion – you may choose to only twist a little way. Be guided by the sensations and feedback of your lower back.
  • You can explore these twists with the feet wider apart or feet and knees together and choose which variation feels best for your lower back.
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3. Supine hamstring stretch with ankle circles

  • Start lying on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor. 
  • Bring your left knee into your chest and interlace the hands behind the left thigh. Inhale, and as you exhale extend the left leg up towards the ceiling until you feel a stretch along the back of the left leg. Inhale to re-bend the knee. Repeat this movement 5 times. Only extend the leg to the degree that you can keep your lower back and hips on the floor – the leg may not fully straighten.
  • The last time you extend the leg up, roll the ankle and foot in a circular motion 5 times in one direction and then 5 times in another direction. Then point and flex the foot/ankle 5 times.
  • Then release the leg and switch sides.
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4. Cat-cow

  • Start in a quadruped, all fours position with the knees under the hips and the hands under the shoulders. 
  • Inhale, gently lift your tailbone towards the ceiling, allowing your lower back to release towards the floor and the chest to lift up into a gentle backbend. Keep the back of the neck long and soft, shoulder-blades moving away from the ears.
  • Exhale,  tuck your tailbone under, press firmly into your hands and allow your spine to round up towards the ceiling. Draw your chin towards your chest.
  • Continue this rippling, wave-like movement through the spine, exploring the potential to move all the different vertebrae of your spine.
  • You can also explore adding gentle side-bends and circles of your ribs and hips moving into any areas that feel tight in the spine and ribcage.
  • Repeat this action 5-10 times.

5. Childs pose

  • From a hands and knees position, gently press your hips back towards your heels, extending your arms out in front of you.
  • If you feel any pain or discomfort in your knees try keeping your hips up a little higher or explore putting some blankets under your knees, or behind your knees for more cushioning and support.
  • Allow your head to release to the floor, or if more comfortable support and rest your head by stacking your forearms and resting the forehead on the arms or resting on a prop such a book.
  • Hold for 5 breaths
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6. Side-bending childs pose

  • Staying in childs pose, walk your upper body over towards the left side of the mat. Lean your ribcage a little to the right to create a stretch through the right side of your torso and waist.
  • For less intensity keep your hands shoulder width apart, or for a deeper stretch place your right palm on top of your left palm, or hold your right wrist with your left hand.
  • Hold for 5 deep breaths and then switch sides.
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7. Low lunge with option to side stretch

  • Start in an all fours position and step your right foot forwards between your hands. If it is difficult to bring the hands to the floor, you could use a nearby chair or wall for help with balance.
  • Stack your right knee over your right heel and allow the hips to lean forwards until you feel a gentle stretch in the hips.
  • Hold for 5 breaths
  • Then bring both hands to your front thigh and lift your spine up so that your ribcage is over your hips.
  • Take your left arm up towards the ceiling, creating length and space between your left hand and left knee.
  • If you feel balanced and stable you can explore side bending very gently to the right to further increase the stretch on the left side.
  • Hold for 5 breaths and then release your hands to the floor returning to all fours for the second side.

8. Pigeon pose variations

  • From all fours, slide your left knee to the back of your left wrist. Bring your left heel in front of your left hip and stretch your right leg back along the floor. The hips will move closer to the floor. You are looking to feel a moderate stretch on the outside of the left hip and thigh. If you feel any discomfort in the knees you can lie on your back and take the supine pigeon variation (see below).
  • For supine pigeon start lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Take your left ankle and place it over your right knee. Allow your left knee to open out to the side, creating a stretch down the outside of the left hip. To progress the stretch further, you can bring your right knee into your chest, interlacing your hands above or behind the right thigh to draw the legs closer in towards your chest.
  • Hold the pose for 5-10 slow deep abdominal breaths.

9. Supine cow-face

  1. Start lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
  2. Take your right thigh on top of your left thigh (as if sitting cross-legged)
  3. Gently bring both knees in towards your chest.
  4. Move your right outer hip towards the foot of the mat to level the hips and increase the stretch in the right outer hip.
  5. To progress the stretch further, hold onto the shins or ankles, gently moving the feet apart from each other.
  6. Hold the pose for 5-10 slow deep abdominal breaths. Then switch sides, bringing the left thigh on top of the right.

10. Single leg twist or twisted roots stretch

  1. Start lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
  2. Bring your left knee into your chest and straighten your right leg on the floor.
  3. Slide your right leg a little to the right and use your right hand to guide your left knee across the body and over towards the left side of the mat.
  4. Keep your right shoulder-blade and upper back on the floor.
  5. Hold for 5 slow breaths and then switch sides.
  6. For a deeper twist variation cross the left thigh on top of the right thigh and allow both knees to twist towards the right. Keep the left shoulder blade and upper back on the floor. If you feel any discomfort in your lower back return to the single leg twist variation.

11. Relaxation pose

  • Come to lie with your lower legs propped over the edge of a chair or stool. Ensure that your knees are a little forward of your hips and that your lower back and hips are relaxed on the floor. Alternatively you can lie on the floor with cushions under the knees.
  • If your chin is higher than your forehead, place a cushion behind the head and neck for support.
  • Relax here for 2-5 minutes connecting to your deep diaphragmatic abdominal breathing. If helpful to connect to this you can rest your hands on your abdomen. As you inhale, feel the lower belly, sides of the waist and lower back gently expand outwards. As you exhale, feel the lower abdomen, side waists and lower back soften and release towards the floor.

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