Back pain is one of the most common reasons people visit their doctor, with back aches affecting 8 out of 10 people at some point during their lives, according to the National Institutes of Health. Aging is one of the contributing factors to back pain as the intervertebral disks start to deteriorate and grow thinner by age 30, with one-third of adults over the age of 20 showing signs of herniated disks, reports the New York Times.
As part of the aging process, discs also lose moisture and shrink, increasing the risk of spinal stenosis. In some cases, pain can be so severe that it limits mobility and decreases quality of life.
So what does this mean for you?
There are multiple ways to improve back strengthen and prevent immobility. For example, diet, exercise and lifestyle contribute significantly to pain reduction and flexibility — maybe even more so than you think. Better flexibility can help to prevent everyday injuries like muscle or disc strains that can occur when getting out of bed, transitioning to standing from sitting, bending down to reach for something, or walking up and down stairs.
The following stretches are fairly simple, yet offer significant benefits including reducing pain and improving mobility:
Back pain is often described as a tightness in the neck, which can be relieved by performing a simple back stretch known as the back flexion. To begin, lie on a mat or towel on the floor and pull both of your knees to your chest, or as close to your chest as you can without causing pain. Next, lift your head toward your knees until you feel your back start to stretch, which will likely happen when your body forms a ball. Hold, relax and repeat. When performed regularly, this stretch can improve back mobility and increase flexibility.
Hip Flexor Stretching
Tight hip flexors, which are common in older people, predispose you to postural problems and back pain. Regularly stretching your hips can help widen your range of motion and alleviate discomfort.
Perform this stretch by kneeling on your left knee and bringing the right leg forward into a lunge position. Next, squeeze your buttocks to tuck your pelvis under, and lift your left arm up toward the ceiling. Hold for about 30 seconds, and then repeat with the other knee.
Knee to Chest Stretch
Great for improving overall back mobility, the knees to chest stretch can not only relieve pain but can also play a part in preventing injuries.
Begin by lying on your back with your heels flat on the floor. Using your hands, bring one of your knees to your chest and hold for 15 to 20 seconds. Relax and repeat with the other knee.
This is an excellent stretch to do before getting out of bed each morning. The piriformis muscle is found in the gluteal region of the lower limb. When irritated, it can contribute to back and knee pain. To stretch it, cross one leg over the other while lying on your back. Gently pull your knee toward your chest. Hold for 30 seconds and then relax. Switch knees and repeat.
Stretching, yoga and regular low-impact exercise can be very beneficial in keeping you mobile. But if relief from conservative treatments is still not found, other options may need to be considered. Candidates for minimally-invasive spine procedures may be interested to learn from people who have experienced similar pain and found relief. Told from a patient’s point of view, Laser Spine Institute’s YouTube channel offers a video series showcasing the streamlined surgical experience of patients who have been set free of chronic pain.
This article is from Harriet Cohen. Harriet is from New York and teaches a creative writing workshop for seniors.