September 28, 2015

Got Back Pain? Try Doing ‘Superman’ and 3 More Exercises

Tips for keeping your back strong and healthy as you age

Older nice lady with terrible backache

Back pain is often a result of the aging process for many people, but there are steps you can take to keep your back strong and healthy.

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“As you age, your back undergoes degenerative changes,” says Garett Helber, DO.

“Most people refer to these changes as arthritis, which include disk degeneration, spinal canal narrowing and enlargement of the joints of the spine. As a result, some people may experience pain, although there are many that do not,” he says.

How posture affects back health

If your mother reminded you to stand and sit up straight when you were a child, she was on to something. Poor posture can put additional stress on your spine.

“It can also contribute to issues with the muscles surrounding the spine, including the neck,” says Dr. Helber. “Good posture helps to minimize the stress on your spine and on the surrounding muscles, which helps to reduce pain in the long term.”

Tips for maintaining good posture

Parents often urge their children not to slouch, but that’s sometimes easier said than done. Dr. Helber recommends the chin tuck maneuver for maintaining good posture.

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“You tuck your chin into your neck, which helps keep your head over the center of your body,” he says. “You should also make an effort to minimize slouching by not allowing your shoulders to fall forward or rotate inward.”

Some additional posture tips:

  • Sit up with your back straight and your shoulders back. Your buttocks should touch the back of your chair.
  • Distribute your body weight evenly on both hips.
  • Keep your knees even with or slightly higher than your hips (use a foot rest or stool if necessary).
  • Do not cross your legs; keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Adjust your chair height and work station so you can sit up close to your work. Rest your elbows and arms on your chair or desk, keeping your shoulders relaxed.

Exercises to strengthen your back

Fortunately, there are also exercises you can do to stretch and strengthen your back and help avoid or reduce pain.

“Using a core stability ball instead of a chair while sitting at your desk will activate and strengthen back muscles while working,” Dr. Helber says.

Outside of work, Dr. Helber recommends these exercises:

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  • Superman: Lie on your stomach on a flat surface and raise both your arms and your legs at the same time as though you are flying. Hold the position for five seconds. Then repeat 10 times. This helps strengthen your lower back.
  • Pelvic tilt: Lie on your back with your knees bent. In this relaxed position, the small of your back will not touch the floor. Tighten your abdominal muscles so that the small of your back presses flat against the floor. Hold for five seconds, then relax. Repeat three times and gradually build to 10 repetitions.
  • Knees-to-chest: Lie on your back with both legs straight. Bring one knee up to your chest, pressing the small of your back into the floor (see pelvic tilt). Hold for five seconds and repeat five times. Repeat exercise with the other leg.
  • Back extension stretch: Lie on your stomach. Use your arms to push your upper body off the floor. Hold for five seconds. Let your back relax and sag. Repeat 10 times.

Discontinue any exercise that produces or increases pain in the leg or back

Lifestyle changes can decrease back pain

There are three main things you can do to strengthen your back and decrease pain, says Dr. Helber:

  • Avoid smoking or using nicotine products.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Stay active and perform the exercises outlined above.

When it comes to keeping your back strong, good habits will serve you well, especially proper posture and exercise.

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