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If you read my last health post, you’ll know that I’ve been experiencing some back pains lately. Update: I’ve been strengthening my back properly and the pain has finally subsided. But I realized that another simple strategy played a big role in that as well: stretching.

The Ontario Chiropractic Association warns forgetting to stretch before exercising or playing sports can cause unnecessary injury. We learned this basic fact in elementary school gym class, and yet many of us choose to save those few minutes before and after such effort to not stretch. Yoga has been a great way for me to incorporate longer holds and sequences, yet here are some you can do every day in the comfort of your own home:

SHOULDERS

The shoulder (or deltoid) muscle is made up of three different muscles, that when moved, allow us to raise our arms upwards or to the front, to the side and backwards. A good way to improve shoulder flexibility is the “Reach Behind”.

In a seated position, place your right arm behind your head. Then grab your right elbow with your left hand and use your left arm to push downwards on the right arm. You should feel the stretch in the shoulder and back of the right arm. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat 2 to 3 times and alternate both sides.

Chest

The chest muscles attach to the breast bone (sternum) and extend over the front of you ribs to the top part of your upper arm. The Doorway Lean is a great stretch for the chest area.

Begin by facing a doorway. Then keep your elbows bent at 90° with your arms raised to shoulder height. Rest your hands and forearms against the door jamb. Lean forward slightly and you should feel a stretch across your chest. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds to start and gradually work up to 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat 2 to 3
times.

Lower Back

There are many layers of muscles in your lower back which help to move your body in different directions. The muscles along either side of your spine start at the back of your skull and go all the way down to the pelvis. To properly stretch these muscles before doing any back-intensive workouts, try the Lower Back Flexion.

Start by lying with your back to on the floor. Then grasp each knee and hug it to your chest or grasp both knees together and draw them to your chest. Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat 2 to 3 times.

The lower back can also be stretched with the Seated Forward Bend. When in a chair, gently lean forward so that your chest is resting on your knees or close to them. When in this position, try to touch your toes. If sitting on the floor, bend your knees and grasp them with your arms. Then hug your knees towards your chest. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 2 to 3 times.

Hamstrings

The hamstrings bend your knee. They attach to the back of your pelvis and go all the way down the back of your upper leg to attach to just below the knee joint. Note that when stretching the hamstrings, it is important to move from your hips rather than rounding your back. Hamstrings can be activated using a Seated Hamstring Stretch.

Start by sitting on the floor and bringing one foot in towards the opposite thigh. Lean forward towards the knee of your outstretched leg. Then bend forward from the hips to help keep your lower back straight. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds to start and gradually work up to 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat 2 to 3 times on each leg.

Posture

In addition, poor posture can negatively affect the body, and in the long term, even alter its structure. By not straightening up, individuals may experience fatigue, achy muscles, strain and pain in the lower back, and chronic headaches.

Certain stretches can go a long way in achieving better posture, here are two examples of stretches that will help limit back pain:

TWISTING STAR: Start by standing with your feet shoulder width apart with your arms out to the side. Then, pull your belly button into your spine and twist your spine to the left, turning your head in the direction of your left arm going behind you. Pause and then return to face forward. Do the same on your right side and repeat each side one more time.

REACH FOR THE SKY: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your arms at your sides. Gently sweep your arms out from your sides up over your head. Be sure to touch your hands together before you release them back out and down to your side. Repeat 3 more times.

Combined with the exercises I wrote about in my last post, you can work towards alleviating your back pain immediately. But remember to still see a professional if any pain persists. A healthcare expert, like a chiropractor, can help you manage your pain and get you back on track.