Oh, your achin' back! Being on your feet all day sure takes its toll. You heft groceries, climb stairs and sit in meetings for hours on uncomfortable chairs. Then compound the beating your back takes with wearing high heels that look great but throw your posture out of whack, and what you get is some serious lower-back pain. Treat yourself to some stretches you can do at home for relaxation and pain alleviation.
Lengthen Your Spine
When you apply traction, you're essentially lengthening your spine, increasing the spaces between your vertebrae to take painful pressure off your nerves. A useful stretch for lengthening your spine is the Staff pose. Sit on the floor straight and tall with your legs together and extended directly in front of you, so that your body forms an "L." Place your fingertips on the floor on either side of your hips and press down into the floor while lengthening your spine to sit as tall as you can, exhaling as you do so. Hold for a count of one then relax and breathe in before repeating.
Sometimes the simplest stretches are the most effective. In their book "Sciatica Solutions," Carol Ardman and Loren Fishman tell lower back pain sufferers that forward bends are more effective than traction machines for separating the vertebrae, stretching out the muscles and relaxing the lower back. You can perform them from a standing position, but you won't have to worry about keeping your balance if you do forward bends from a seated position on the floor. Sit with your legs extended straight in front of you, then exhale as you bend forward. Place your arms alongside your legs with your palms on the floor. Lay your entire torso on your legs if possible, but if not, just go as far as you can. Hold the stretch for at least 60 seconds or up to three minutes, slowly breathing in and out and lengthening your spine with each breath. Come back up to a seated position on an inhaled breath.
Cat With Traction Band
You're probably familiar with a yoga pose called the Cat. It's effective on its own for stretching your back, but when you add a band to the move, you'll also add some traction for a deeper stretch. You'll need a band that is circular, not one that has two ends. Just lay the band on the floor and stand in the middle of it. Kneel down on the part of the band in front of you and grab the part of the band that's behind you. Pull the band up to rest on your lower back. Place your hands on the floor in front of you so you are in a kneeling position -- with your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Arch your back like a cat -- stretching it up and rounding it; pull your stomach in; and exhale as you go. Hold this for a beat then inhale, relaxing back to the starting position and allowing the band to work with gravity to provide a deep stretch.
What About Inversion?
Gravity takes control when you hang upside down. It's called inversion therapy, and you can get boots, boards and other apparatuses to assist you with this topsy-turvy stretching at home. While it does provide temporary relief from lower-back pain, the Mayo Clinic says that it isn't an effective long-term solution. Additionally, hanging upside down increases your blood pressure and the pressure in your eyes, so inversion may not be safe for people with heart disease, high blood pressure or even glaucoma. Even if you don't have these conditions, check with your doctor before self-prescribing inversion therapy to stretch out your lower back. He'll know if you have any medical conditions at all that could be aggravated by hanging upside down, and he may have alternative suggestions to offer, too.
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