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Back Exercises


Stretching Exercises continued...


Shortened hip flexors and quadriceps can contribute to sway back (excessive arch of low back)

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch:

Kneel on mat. Bend right leg and place right foot ahead of you on floor, knee lined up over ankle. Left leg (knee to toes) remains on floor behind you (place a cushion under the knee if mat does not provide enough cushioning). Keeping back upright, press pelvis forward slightly - until you feel a stretch in the front of the left hip. Do not extend knee beyond toes. Tighten left buttock and tuck the tailbone under to increase the stretch and or move your left knee further back. Remember to keep back upright. Hold stretch for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.
kneeling hip flexor stretch


Standing Hip Flexor Stretch:

Stand, place one foot forward and one foot back. Lift back heel off the floor. Keeping torso upright, bend front knee and slowly lower your torso until you feel a stretch in the front of the hip of the back leg. Do not extend front knee beyond toes. Placing left foot back further or placing the left foot up on a step will increase the stretch.

standing hip flexor stretch - start position standing hip flexor stretch

Quadriceps (front of thigh) Stretch:

Stand up. Bend your knee behind you, grab your ankle and gently pull your heel toward you buttocks until you feel a gentle pull on the front of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.

standing quad stretch
Stretching using an Inversion Table

Inversion therapy has been around for a couple of thousand years. Your feet are securely supported as your body hangs upside down - and the spine is stretched by the weight of your body. For more information see Inversion Tables Page.




Balance Exercises

Standing Balance Exercises

Most exercises improve balance somewhat - even walking, as you shift your center of gravity from one side to the other with each step.

One of the simplest ways to improve balance is standing on one leg (see below). Another is walking heel-to-toe in a straight line. Walking improves dynamic balance, while standing on one leg improves static balance.

One-Leg Stand

Stand on one foot for 30 -60 seconds (stand next to countertop or other stable surface in case you lose your balance). Do not lock knee. Tighten abs to help stabilize the spine. Keep spine neutral, pelvis should be level. Switch sides and repeat.
To increase difficulty, close eyes or raise heel off ground. Raising the heels of the ground also strengthens the lower leg muscles - strengthening the legs and hips improve the ability to balance while standing or walking.

one-leg stand balance exercise

Walking heel-to-toe

Stand tall. Walk by placing the heel of one foot in front of toes of other foot as if you are walking on a board or tightrope. You can stretch your arms out to sides to help with balance or keep them down to increase difficulty. Take ten to twenty steps.

Safety tip: Walk heel-to-toe in a hallway so you have a wall on either side of you to catch yourself if you lose your balance.

Stability Ball Exercises

*Also called the Swiss ball, exercise ball, balance ball

An exercise ball can be used to improve balance and strengthen the core. Stability ball exercises require constant adjustments of the core muscles to stabilize the spine (maintain firm neutral alignment of the spine) as you balance yourself on the unstable surface of the stability ball.

An exercise ball is inexpensive and adds variety to your workout. Exercise balls are over-sized inflated balls. The softer the exercise ball, the easier it is to balance on it. Pick an exercise ball where your legs are parallel to the floor when sitting on it. The further the ball is from your body (this obviously does not apply to sitting-on-the ball exercises) the more difficult the exercise. When doing exercises using an exercise ball, keep the abdomen tight.

While exercises such as the plank and bridge can be done using an exercise ball to increase difficulty and challenge balance, the basic plank and basic bridge floor exercises can also be made more challenging by lifting one leg off the ground.

Note: Exercises done on a stability ball challenge balance but do not replace standing balance exercises

How to Sit on the Exercise Ball

Sit on the center of the ball with feet on floor, hip-width apart. Thighs will be parallel to floor if ball is the optimal size for you. Sit tall with neutral posture - maintain the slight natural arch in the lower back; keep shoulders blades gently pulled down and closer together; look straight ahead so that chin level with floor; keep natural curve in neck; tighten your abdomen but not so hard it is uncomfortable).

Sitting Balance Exercises on the exercise ball

Feet flat on floor with hips and knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Tighten abs. Keep back straight.

Raise and lower one heel at a time.
Raise and lower one foot at a time a couple of inches off the floor as if marching.
Raise and lower arm to front, alternating sides.
Raise and lower arm while lifting opposite heel (or foot) off floor.

Variation: to increase challenge to balance, keep foot off floor for about 5 seconds.

sitting on exercise ball raising foot
Lying Balance Exercise on the exercise ball

Lie face-down with stomach over ball. Place hands flat on floor in front of ball, hands shoulder-width apart. Tighten your abdomen and keep your back straight. Keep head in line with body. Start with toes touching floor for balance. Walk on hands away from ball until ball is under shins. Hold for 3-5 seconds. Walk back to starting position. Do ten repetitions.

Variation: To increase difficulty, walk on hands away from ball until ball is under shins then slowly raise and lower alternating arms to shoulder height before walking back to start.



Low Impact Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic Exercise (walking, running, cycling, swimming) increases cardiovascular fitness. Aerobics also promote back health.

Aerobic exercises increase endurance of the core muscles. Increased core endurance prevents back pain. Aerobics also increase circulation and the amount of oxygen in the blood to promote healing and relieves stress and improves sleep, which can help reduce back pain.

Low-impact aerobics (one foot is always on the ground) such as brisk walking are generally safer for those with back problems than high-impact aerobics. High-impact aerobics (where both feet leave the ground at the same time) such as jumping rope or running puts more stress on your back than low-impact aerobics. When your feet hit the ground extra stress is placed on the intervertebral discs and joints of the spine.

Walking is both low-impact and weight-bearing. Like all low-impact aerobic exercise, walking increases muscular strength and endurance of the lower back, hips, buttocks, and abdomen, as well as the legs. Weight-bearing aerobics, where the legs support the weight of the body, also reduce bone loss in the lower spine, hips, and legs.

While walking is safe for almost anyone, it is also effective. Brisk walking is a moderate-intensity aerobic activity - 150 minutes per week is the minimum amount of moderate-intensity aerobic activity recommended by the World Health Organization for significant health benefits. Though many people get in a lot of sporadic walking during the day, aerobic exercise must be done in bouts of at least 10 minutes to be effective. Walking must be done at a brisk pace to get the heart rate up enough to be considered a moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. Strolling doesn't cut it.

See Aerobics Page for detailed information.


You Will See Results

Keeping fit with an exercise plan that includes exercises that stretch tight muscles that contribute to poor posture and exercises that strengthen core muscles needed for spinal stability is very effective for the prevention of recurring back pain. Low-impact aerobic exercise also helps as it increases core endurance without placing excessive stress on the spine. Strong quads (front of thighs) are also needed to lift to objects with the legs without rounding the back.

Increase the duration of back exercises gradually to avoid overuse injuries. It may take a couple of months, but if you stick with it, you will see results.

*Check with your physician before doing back exercises if you have a back condition or other medical condition.