The One Back Exercise Tool Everyone Needs

Back Pain; we have all experienced it at some time or another in our lives. For some people it is a fact of daily life, either minor back pain that is annoying and uncomfortable, or debilitating lower back pain that can keep one in bed all day. Some form of everyday back pain has become a regular occurrence for almost everyone. Eight out of 10 Americans will experience back pain sometime in their lives, leaving millions of Americans in discomfort, affecting anything from daily tasks, work functions, exercise and even sleep patterns.

Back problems can be the result from many different stimuli. The position in which workers sit and perform their daily tasks can have a major impact on one’s back health. Sitting all day can cause the hips to become tight, which over time results in tight ancillary muscles in other areas, ultimately pulling on the sacrum and lower back tendons. Sitting can also tighten the hamstrings and quadriceps, which also pulls on the gluteus muscles, and ultimately affecting lower back muscles. If the back muscles are tight from underuse, or as a result of surrounding tight muscles, everyday activities such as getting groceries out of the car, or bending down to pick something up, can also spur lower back spasms and/or tightness. In addition, tight shoulders, tight upper back muscles, and stiff neck muscles, which can be a result from sitting and working on a computer all day, hunched over looking at any type of screen, is also extremely common and uncomfortable. Even at night at rest, If an uncomfortable or inappropriate pillow is slept on night after night, the shoulders and neck muscles can also become tight and a cause for further discomfort in the neck, shoulders and upper back.

Luckily there is some hope to ease these problems. Relieving minor back pain with yoga and back exercises is a great way to receive release. Regularly stretching the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support the spine is an important element of all back-exercise programs. The benefits of stretching include reducing tension in the muscles that support the spine; as tension in these muscles can worsen pain from any number of back pain conditions. Benefits also include improving the range of motion and overall mobility in the back muscles and spine, ultimately reducing the risk of disability caused by back pain. This is the goal we are striving for with back exercises.

There are many beneficial stretching exercises that can be safely performed at home. First, forward folds, done either standing or sitting, with the knees slightly bent, provide numerous relaxing and tension relieving benefits for the hamstrings, lower back, upper back and neck muscles. In addition, side bends, or side stretches, allow the supporting spinal muscles to become looser and more adaptive to a fluid spine.

In addition, when doing side bends with the arm towards the ear, stretching upward and over, the muscles surrounding the shoulders and neck are loosened, helping to relieve tightness that can travel up and down the spine and can pull it out of alignment. Also, simple cat/cow exercises, done mindfully and slowly, can bring fluidity to the spine, while helping to relieve the rigidity in the lower back, upper back, shoulders, and neck.

Yoga Wheel - Cat/Cow Variations

Yoga Wheel - Cat/Cow Variation

Incorporating a yoga wheel into ones daily stretching exercises also helps to relieve overall back tension and back pain. The shape of the yoga wheel supports the natural curves of the spine and deepens the arches so that the spine can get back into its natural state (s-curve). In addition, the yoga wheel also serves as a support to the muscles and the spine, so stretches can be held longer and in a relaxed fashion, allowing for deeper stretching, opening, and relief.

In addition to relieving the strain of daily back pain, utilizing a yoga wheel on a regular basis can promote an optimal healing environment for bulging, degenerating, or herniated discs. The yoga wheel works like a spinal decompression device and uses the same basic principle of spinal traction that is offered by chiropractors, osteopaths, and other appropriately trained health professionals. Spinal decompression is a type of traction therapy applied to the spine in an attempt to bring about several theoretical benefits including:

  • Creates a negative intradiscal pressure to promote retraction or re-positioning of the herniated or bulging disc material
  • Creates a lower pressure in the disc that will cause an influx of healing nutrients and other substances into the disc
  • Stretches connective tissues and muscles along the spine

Many people who are currently seeing a physical therapist or chiropractor, or would like to start a home stretching regimen for better back health, will benefit from the following exercise examples to complement a home stretching practice: 

Incorporating the yoga wheel into regular stretching practice is like a nonsurgical spinal decompression therapy which can be a great complement to doctor visits, or to be proactive with one’s back health. With the yoga wheel, the spine is stretched and relaxed intermittently in a controlled manner. This process creates a negative intradiscal pressure (pressure within the disc itself), which has the potential benefits:

  • Pulls the herniated or bulging disc material back into the disc
  • Promotes the passage of healing nutrients, into the disc and fosters a better healing environment
  • Pain, disc pressure and misalignment due to compromising the natural curvature of the spine are relieved

As many American are experiencing, back pain has unfortunately become a major factor in everyday lives. Due to extensive sitting at work desks, hunched backs staring at screens, lack of exercise, tightness in the hamstrings and quadriceps, coupled with poor sleeping supports, the spinal support system is becoming tight, uncomfortable, bulging and even herniated. While spinal decompression therapy in a decompression machine may be recommended by a physiotherapist or a chiropractor as a potential treatment for a variety of lower back pain conditions, the yoga wheel can be an invaluable tool in addition to professional therapies to speed up the healing and adjusting processes.

Guest Blogger, Mom & Yoga Teacher Jennifer Wolff


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