Spinal health is integral to having a healthy, pain-free body, plain and simple. But unfortunately, back pain affects a lot of people every day. The National Institute of Health estimates that 80% of adults experience back pain at some point in their lifetime. Those with poor posture are more vulnerable to muscle imbalances that can lead to pain and injury. Our spines move in multiple planes on a regular basis, so the ability to have true freedom of movement lies in alignment, flexibility, and strength.
Spinal alignment should be your primary focus if you want a strong (pain free) back. Once you align your spine, you have the greatest amount of space between your joints, which can help you better engage your muscles and find a greater range of motion. And who doesn't want freer movement?
Stretching is also an important component of spinal health—and there are plenty of stretches you can do at home that will relieve your pain in no time. So if you suffer from back pain, give these stretches a try!
- Lie down on your back, move your hips slightly to the left (this keeps your spine aligned).
- Draw your left knee into your chest and take it over toward your right shoulder.
- Press down gently with your right hand to encourage your left hip to stack on top of right.
- Lift your shoulders up and try to get more of your left shoulder on the ground.
- Reach your left arm out to the side with palm to ceiling and turn your focus toward that hand.
- Reaching up with one hand towards the ceiling, lengthen your hip and fingertips as far from each other as possible.
- Try not to rotate or twist your spine.
- You can keep your focus straight forward or look up toward your raised arm.
Hamstring stretch with extended spine
- Sit with your legs straight out in front of you.
- Use a strap or a belt around your feet and lean forward, leading from your heart with a flat back (don’t round your low back).
- Press your thigh bones downward to keep your legs straight.
- Reach your sits bones wide behind you.
Forward fold stretch
- Let your torso fold forward over your legs—you can hold onto your feet if you have the flexibility or continue to use the strap.
- Lengthen the crown of your head toward your feet and hug your abdominals toward your spine to help create more length from head to tailbone.
Extension stretch (½ Bow pose)
This stretch is twofold in value: It works to engage the spinal extensor muscles in the back body and stretches the often tight muscles on the front of your body (abdominals, hip flexors, and pectorals).
- Focus on keeping length in your spine by rooting your hips down and reaching energy out through the crown of your head.
- Bend your knee and kick your foot into the hand on the same side to lengthen the quadriceps and hip flexors and open your chest.
- Keep your shoulders squared forward.
Most of our daily movements are in a frontal plane (think forward, not side to side), and constantly looking at screens does not help our postures. One of the biggest culprits of a misaligned spine is the forward position of the head and rounded shoulders. I love to do this exercise with my hands behind me on a ballet barre, but if you don't have one of those handy, the corner of a room works great, too.
- Position your hands slightly below your shoulders, turn your thumbs up toward the ceiling, and roll your shoulders open.
- Let your heart reach forward and your jawline reach back so your ears stay aligned with your shoulders.
Stretching the hip and gluteal muscles is essential to spinal health, because they are the base on which your spine sits. These muscles stabilize your pelvis, but when they're tight, they can also restrict movement.
- Focus on squaring your hips forward.
- Press the shin of your front leg downward.
- Lengthen the outside of your hip away from your knee.
- Turn your back hip down.
Jill Dailey is a trained kinesiologist with a degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She soon found that her true passion was helping people transform their lives through fitness. Dailey was an early trainee of the famed Lotte Berk method and fused it with her particular style ballet barre, inspired by California. Focusing on micro-movements and stretches to strengthen and condition, she opened The Dailey Method in San Francisco’s Marina District in 2000.