Posture perfect Part 1: 5 exercises you can do at home to reduce back pain
Poor posture can lead to long-term problems like poor balance and stability, neck and back pain, breathing problems, constipation, headaches and heartburn.
Have you ever sat up straight because you saw someone doing that on television? At that moment, you might have noticed how your back normally slouches or how your head typically drops at an unnatural angle while you watch TV from the comfort of your favourite sofa. It is then that you might have also realised that the couch you often sink into can or will lead to chronic back problems in the future.
We all tend to sit for large portions of a day, either at home, work or even while commuting. Over time, we develop habits that are bad for our posture, like crossing our legs while sitting down, slouching in a chair while working, being hunched over in front of a computer, putting our weight on one leg while standing, or sticking one butt out while standing.
Poor posture can lead to long-term problems such as poor balance and stability, neck and back pain, breathing problems, constipation, headaches and even heartburn.
However, help is at hand, even if you are not big on fitness or don’t visit the gym regularly. In this two-part series on posture, we’ll tell you simple exercises you can do at home and in the office, respectively. Added bonus, many of these movements also provide short-term pain relief by eliminating extra tension from your muscles.
The following is a selection of exercises that you can perform even in the comfort of your home to correct your posture - and even strengthen some of those muscles in the body that are responsible for keeping you upright.
1. Hip flexor stretches
Constant sitting or a slouching posture while standing up tends to restrict the muscles in the lower back and hips. It is important to perform exercises to correct this. The hip flexor stretch is a great way to achieve this as it frees up the hip muscles which can be in an always-contracted position as we sit for the better part of the day.
- Stand straight and take one leg forward - make sure to take a big step. Keep both legs straight so they form an inverted V.
- Bend the knee on the front leg while keeping the back leg straight. You should feel a stretch in the hip on the back leg.
- Hold the pose for a few seconds and return, then repeat with the other leg.
- Perform the stretch on both sides at least 8-10 times.
2. Cobra pose/back extensions
The cobra pose is known as Bhujangasana in yoga and is essentially a hyperextension of the lower back that helps stretch out the muscles in the stomach area, which become bunched up because of sitting for long periods. This exercise, along with the others, must be performed daily to see positive results as it strengthens the midsection of the body.
- Lie flat on your stomach with your palms on the floor beside your shoulders. Keep your legs straight and rest the top of your feet on the floor.
- Lift your upper body by anchoring your hands on the floor, while keeping your lower body planted.
- Stretch your upper body upwards as far as you can go comfortably.
- Ensure that you are breathing normally and not holding your breath at any point, and pause for a few seconds.
- Slowly return to the resting position. Repeat the steps 5-10 times.
3. Cat-cow pose
Another simple exercise, the Cat-Cow pose requires you to switch between two positions repetitively. The cat-cow pose is really effective in alleviating lower back problems. Curving the back inward and outwards helps in freeing up the muscles surrounding the spine and the midsection of the body.
- Get down on your hands and knees (all fours) on a mat, with your palms and knees firmly planted on the floor. Keep your back straight like a table top.
- Raise your back in an upward curve to assume the cat pose first, and bend the head towards the chest. Pause for a few seconds and continue to breathe normally.
- Now drop your tummy down to the floor and curl your back inwards to transition into the cow position. Lift your neck upwards and breathe in. Pause for a few seconds.
- Do at least five repetitions of both movements, to begin with.
4. Bridge pose/glute bridge
Also known as Setu Bandhasana in yoga, the bridge pose requires you to lift the midsection of the body to stretch the muscles in the lower back, chest as well as the abdominals. It is one of the key exercises recommended to those with lower back pain, including problems like a herniated disc.
- Lie down on your back on a mat. Bend your knees and place your feet firmly on the floor - your feet should be hip-width apart.
- Keep your arms straight and place them on either side, slightly under your hips.
- Lift your hips by driving your glutes upwards. Your shoulders and neck stay anchored to the ground.
- Form a straight line from the knees all the way to the shoulders. Pause for a few seconds.
- Repeat the exercise at least 10 times.
5. Baby pose
Another superb stretching exercise meant for the lower back, the baby pose helps extend the spine that becomes compressed over time due to constant sitting. The back, shoulders as well as hips are stretched a good deal with this pose and it can be practised daily.
- Get down on your hands and knees (all fours) on a mat, and take your hips back to sit on your feet.
- Rest your hips between your feet - widen the position of the feet if this is not possible.
- Stretch your arms out further towards the front and touch your head to the floor in front of your knees.
- Pause for a few seconds and continue to breathe. Repeat the exercise a few times.
These simple stretching and strengthening exercises can be done anywhere and at any time, and are helpful for people experiencing pain due to poor posture. The next article in this series will focus on exercises you can do many times at the office, for instant relief as well as long-term benefits for the posture.
Read Exercises to Improve Your Posture for more detailed information.
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