Back problems happen to the best of us. No matter how physically in shape you are or how careful you are with your body, there’s a pretty good chance that at some point you’ll pull, tweak, or irritate your back leaving you sore, stiff, and out of commission. An estimated 75% to 85% of all Americans will experience some form of back pain during their lifetime. In about 90% of all cases, the pain goes away over time, without surgery, which is good news — but not great news. Even the most minor back pain can keep you from slaying it at your intramural softball tournament or getting in that long training run. In more severe cases, it can leave you stranded in bed unable to fathom the idea of going to work and sitting at a desk for eight hours.
Rather than tethering yourself to the couch and riding it out, relieve the built up pressure in your back with these stretches for lower, middle, and upper back pain. As always, take it slow and easy and be mindful of your body’s limits. If you have severe or chronic back problems, contact your doctor.
Lower back: Supine hamstring stretch
You’ll want to hold this stretch for three to five minutes on each side, so make sure you find a comfortable place to lie down. If your bed is firm or you’re seriously bedridden, give this stretch a try there, otherwise lie on the carpet or roll out your yoga mat and get to work. Start by lying flat on your back. Bend your right knee into your chest and place a strap, T-shirt, or rolled up towel around the ball of your foot. Straighten your leg toward the ceiling and press out through both heels. If your back feels strained here, you can bend your left knee and put the foot on the ground for some added stability. Repeat on the other side.
Middle back: Axial extension
Pain in the middle back can usually be blamed on poor posture or injury. If you want to keep middle back strain from becoming chronic, there is no easy fix; you’ll need to spend time strengthening your core and improving your posture. To get relief from pain, perform this easy, daily exercise, which is designed to help reduce the forward-head and rounded-shoulder posture that causes the mid-back pain. Start by standing or sitting with your chest out, shoulders drawn back, and stomach muscles slightly tensed. Slowly retract your chin so your head slides back and your chin slightly lowers. Continue looking ahead and feel the gentle stretch in the back of your head and neck. Hold here and repeat.
Upper back: Wall stretch
A sore or stiff upper back typically stems from muscle irritation or joint issues that can be caused by habitual poor posture or sleeping in an uncomfortable position. To start this upper back stretch, find an open wall and place the palms of both hands on the wall shoulder-width apart. Walk your hands down the wall until they’re in line with your waist and your back is still straight. You may have to take a small step backwards or forwards to make your body a complete 90-degree angle. When you’re in position, roll your shoulders back and allow your back to sway slightly until you feel the stretch in your upper back. Keep your neck straight and hold between 30 seconds and one minute. When you’re ready, walk your hands back up the wall and return to a standing position.