In terms of specific exercises that are best for back pain, a typical misconception is that stretching exercises are an absolute must!
Pain is a strange phenomenon! It can often make joints and muscles in the affected area as well as further away feel tight and stiff, even though there may not be anything structurally wrong with them. Thus, the obvious assumption is that those muscles need to be stretched in order to become looser and relieve tension. In reality, back pain and the effect of exercise to help with back pain is much more complex.
First of all, it's important to know that both stretching and strengthening can be beneficial if you have back pain. Research does not yet have the definitive answer as to what is most effective or which people benefit more from stretching or strengthening. In a good recovery programme, it's a good idea to include both mobility as well as some strengthening exercises.
Remember that many back problems are load tolerance problems, which means that if there is a certain load amount acutely placed on the back (or is accumulated), things can start to hurt. To increase load tolerance, strength training is without a doubt the best option. So, don't forget about progressive strength training exercises within your recovery programme. (To learn more about load tolerance see this blog)
Any activity is better than no activity at all, however, so if you prefer to stretch rather than strengthen your muscles, then it’s most certainly better than nothing.
Try not to sit or be inactive for a prolonged period during the day. Take advantage of any time throughout the day that you are able to take a break from your desk to get up and move. You may decide to do some stretching and strengthening exercises, or even go for a quick walk. All of which can help with back pain.
If you are going to do some stretches, you can focus on stretching your lower back. You can do this through controlled repetitions of the standing forward bend, or the cat-camel. In cat-camel, you are on all fours and take your spine though full flexion (bending) and extension (arching). These are great exercises for spinal mobility and desensitising pain.
The prone press-up is also a good exercise; do 8-12 repetitions in a controlled tempo with this one.
You can try the side-lying twist stretch, as this will cause your spine to rotate. The knee-to-chest stretch is another option; lay on your back and bring one knee to your chest, holding for 45 seconds. Alternate legs and do this 2-3 times.
Stretching and mobility exercises for the back can be great and easy exercises to do in the office because many don’t require any equipment or much space. Remember, aside from what you do at work, generally keeping active and exercising is very beneficial for spinal health and to reduce back pain.
Many different exercise modalities have shown benefits for the back, such as strength/resistance training, yoga, pilates, walking, running and many others. Research is not yet able to say whether one is better than another, but if you have a load tolerance problem gradually restoring and expanding this load tolerance through strength exercises is recommended.
- Alzahrani (2019); Physical activity and chronic back conditions: A population-based pooled study of 60,134 adults
- Steiger (2012); Is a positive clinical outcome after exercise therapy for chronic non-specific low back pain contingent upon a corresponding improvement in the targeted aspect(s) of performance? A systematic review
- Sitthipornvorakul (2018); The effects of walking intervention in patients with chronic low back pain: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.
- Rehaud (2013); Which physical activities and sports can be recommended to chronic low back pain patients after rehabilitation?
- Koltyn (2014); Mechanisms of Exercise-Induced Hypoalgesia
- Byrnes (2018); Is Pilates an effective rehabilitation tool? A systematic review
- Shiri et al (2018); Exercise for the Prevention of Low Back Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials.