A few weeks ago we talked about how eighty percent of people will experience back pain in their life. That's just straight up unpleasant. I gave you three exercises that will do wonders to start to strengthen your trunk and get rid of pain. However the second part to strengthening the core is just as important...it's stretching! The spine was meant to move. And when it doesn't get movement, that can make back pain worse!! Let's take a looksie at why that is...
The brain and spinal cord are kind of important. And because they are so important, they need to be protected. The man to do the job is our cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF. Our brain and spinal cord are suspended in this fluid, creating a perfect environment for the central nervous system to perform optimally without concern of smashing into the skull and therefore causing hemorrhaging or brain damage. The CSF also works as a kind of cleaning system that rids the body of toxins, which in turn conditions the spinal cord. However when we don't move, don't stretch, don't twist, there is limited movement of the fluid through the central nervous system and this causes deterioration and stiffness in the spine! On the other hand, if you are moving that spine, the fluid will be flushed through the system, bathing, feeding, and protecting the brain and spinal cord. This keeps the back flexible, youthful, and healthy!
And not only that, but stretching releases all those tight muscles. When we get an injury our surrounding muscles tighten, holding on to the spine for dear life trying to stabilize and protect. While that's awfully thoughtful, it does not help us on our road to recovery. We have to stretch out those muscles so we can get our range of motion back, so we can start to strengthen and stabilize! So let's take a look at three stretches that will give relief to those aches.
The Laying Hamstring Stretch
This is a wonderful stretch to start with. Lay down on your back with both legs bent. Bring one leg bent into your chest and hold for 40 seconds. Once there is no pain in this stretch, take it one step further by extending your leg to the ceiling and gently pressing the leg down to your chest just until you feel a stretch. If it is hard to reach your foot, use a towel around your foot (grabbing on to the ends with your hands). Gently bring that leg down to the floor and switch to the other side. For a little bit more of a stretch, straighten your opposite leg all the way down onto the floor.
A similar stretch can also be done standing with one leg on the couch or bed. Make sure those hips are square, your legs are in parallel, and only reach forward until you feel a stretch. Don't force it!!
Can't say enough about this guy. This is a fab stretch that will bring you relief and stretch all in one. Start kneeling with knees together or slightly apart and turned out. Sit back onto your feet and reach forward. The goal here is to relax! Hold this one closer to a minute, remembering it takes the back muscles longer to release. Once you finally feel the release and the back and pelvis melting into the floor, take both hands over to the right and pull away from your hands. You will feel this stretch more into the ribcage and shoulders. Hold it for the same amount of time, then switch to the other side.
The piriformis stretch works at releasing the gluts, one of the major culprits to back pain. For this stretch lay down on your back with legs bent, feet on the floor. Cross your right foot over your left knee. If this feels too strong just sit like this for a minute. You can also press your right knee away from you for added umph. And if you still need a little something more, with both hands grab onto your left thigh and hold it into the chest. Make sure both hips stay down on the floor (so you can feel your entire sacrum on the floor). Hang out here until those gluts begin to release, then take the leg in two inches tighter and hold again. Repeat to the other side.
Joseph Pilates believed spinal health was one of the most important things a person could focus on, and that is why it remains a major point of focus of Pilates today. There was an old letter to a client found from 1939 from Joseph that sums up the degree of importance of spinal health, "If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old; if it's completely flexible at 60, you are young...the only real guide to your true age lies not in years, or how old you THINK you feel, but...by the degree of natural and normal flexibility enjoyed by your spine throughout life." Powerful words, Joe.