The hamstrings are the muscles that run through the back your thighs. When these muscles are tight it forces the lumbar spine forward and limits the range of motion in your pelvis. This puts stress on your lower back, which can cause or exacerbate pain.
Those of us who tend to spend a lot of our day sitting are particularly prone to tight hammies. There are plenty of exercises to help relax tight hamstrings. Here are a few options to get you started:
Standing hamstring stretch
Stand tall with your back straight and then bend forward at the waist. Your arms should be hanging down and your legs relatively straight. Reach for your toes but don’t strain. Stop when you can feel the stretch in your hamstring. Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds.
Chair hamstring stretch
Sit on the edge of a chair with a straight back and one leg straight out in front of you. Tilt your pelvis forward, drawing your belly button toward you thigh. Gently fold yourself forward over the extended leg keeping your spine long. Reach toward your toes just until you feel the hamstring start to stretch. Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.
Towel hamstring stretch
Lie on the floor and pull one leg upward. Straighten the leg by holding onto a towel or an exercise band that is wrapped behind the foot. Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.
Never underestimate the potential pain relief from cold and hot packs. These two opposite extremes can both work to reduce lower back pain.
Applying an ice pack will reduce inflammation, which is often a cause of back pain, particularly in the early stages after injury. The cold also acts as a local anaesthetic by slowing down your nerve impulses, giving temporary relief.
Heat therapy dilates the muscles surrounding the spine, increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients. This helps to heal any damaged tissue which may be causing pain. Heat also decreases the frequency of pain messages to the brain, providing temporary relief.
As a general rule heat is better for stiffness and tightness, whereas ice is better for swelling and inflammation. If you’re unsure, feel free to ring us for some advice.
Your abdominal muscles are the front anchor of your spine. When these muscles are weak then your back muscles have to work harder to support the spine. A stronger core will make you less susceptible to back injury and will help to alleviate pain.
Don’t start out too fast and hard, because you may end up hurting your back in an effort to strengthen your core. One place to start is by sitting on an exercise ball for 30 minutes a day. This will gently start to strengthen those core muscles.
Exercising in the pool is another great way to strengthen without injury. Try some leg lifts in the water. Stand in the pool next to the side wall with one hand on the edge. Raise one straight leg slowly to the front, then lower slowly back to your starting position. Start with 5 repetitions on each leg.
Speaking of getting wet, hydrotherapy is another excellent way to alleviate lower back pain. The heat and the buoyancy of the water in a hydrotherapy pool help to induce relaxation and relieve pain. The elimination of gravity makes it easier and safer to exercise. The ability to exercise without impact is perfect for lower back pain as you can strengthen all those supporting muscles without risking further back injury.
You may feel like resting but walking, cycling, swimming or any other form of low impact aerobic exercise will stimulate the flow of blood and nutrients to your back, helping you to heal. At the same time regular exercise will keep your weight in check, and there’s little worse for your back than carrying around extra weight. Finally an aerobic workout increases the production of pain-fighting endorphins, which not only relieve your aching back they make you feel just plain happier.
For more exercises to help relieve back pain, check out our video 3 Exercises to Relieve Lower Back Pain.
At Mid North Coast Physiotherapy we offer a full suite of services to assist with back pain, including physiotherapy, exercise physiology and hydrotherapy. If you are suffering chronic back pain and need help, we are offering a FREE Back Pain Assessment this month. Come in and see one of our physiotherapists, who will assess your situation and help you to identify the best steps forward to achieve relief.
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