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Exercises to prevent chronic neck and back pain

Published October 10, 2011

A chiropractor friend of mine, Skip George, taught me many years ago that we spend much of our lives in flexion. What this means is that our waist is bent forwards, our shoulders are rolled forwards, and our head is forward. If we do the exercise discussed in the previous blog with our back against the wall, what gives us relief of the muscle tension or spasm that comes on quickly as we struggle to hold this position? Easy! Bending at the waist, letting our shoulders droop forwards and letting our head drop forwards This feels good because it gives the weak extensors (the muscles that bring our neck, shoulders, hips and back in a backwards direction) a vacation. It also feels good because it permits the overly tight flexors (the muscles that bring our spine and hips forwards) to return to a shortened position, like a spring returning to a rest position.

So the quick and simple DAILY postural correction routine should start with a few simple exercises designed to do 2 things: stretch the flexors and strengthen the extensors of the neck, shoulders, back and hips.

Here is what I do — you can add many more or even get a “Theraball,” inflated to the proper size for your height (it say this on the box!). The Theraball (beach ball sized) comes with great exercises and helps with balance. With all of these excesses be sure not to hold your breath (yoga will teach you that!) Also, don’t overstretch! (true for all stretching)to the point of pain or spasm.

1. Stand in a doorway. Rest your bent elbows against the inside of the doorframe (or your arms if you are short). With the head held upright gently lean forwards until you feel tension in your armpits/shoulders. Hold is for 5 seconds, return to the starting position, and then repeat 5-10 times.

2. In the same doorway reach up to the lintel (the top of the doorframe). With the elbows straight stretch forwards gently as described above and follow the same time and repetitions. Keep the head facing forwards, not downwards for both of these stretches.

2. Lie prone on the floor with a towel under your face and place your palms flat on the carpet. Then slide your hands fowards 1-2 feet depending on how flexible you are. Then extend your arms, raising your chest upwards but still keeping your bellybutton on the ground. Your head and neck should either be in line with your upper back or gently tilted backwards–don’t overdo it or you will have some discomfort. Hold this position for 10 seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat 3 times. In yoga the common name for this stretch is “Cobra.”

3. Start in the same position as #2. Bring your arms along you side while resting your chin on the towel. Slowly raise your arms off the ground a few inches. At the same time raise your legs(keep the knees straight) and the chest off the ground as much as you can. Hold this for a few seconds the return to the prone position. Repeat this up to 20 times (I try to hold each position for 2-3 seconds at least). This position is sometimes called “Superman.”.

4. Get into a position where you are kneeling on one knee while the other foot is flat on the ground in front or you with that knee bent 90 degrees. This is similar to the yoga position “kneeling warrior” (you can find that in Google Images). Do a pelvic tilt (like you are thrusting your groin forwards). Raise the hand overhead on the side where the knee is on the ground. Slowly stretch it to the opposite side, keeping it in line with tour body while tilting your spine in the same direction as you arm. After you reach your limit return to the starting position and repeat this 7 times. Then switch sides. This exercise, when done properly, stretches the hip flexors.

5. Finally give your hamstrings a good stretch (avoid this exercise if it causes an sciatica or back pain–there are modifications that would be better for you). Get a rolled towel (lengthwise), lie on your back, and bend one knee so the foot is flat on the ground. Bend the other knee so you can loop the towel around your forefoot. While maintaining tension in the towel so it doesn’t slip, slide your hands to both ends of the towel and then slowly pull the leg upwards while straightening out the knee fully. Keep your head relaxed on the ground or on a pillow. Don’t be surprised if you can only raise it @60 degrees. Hold this for 15 seconds, relax and repeat 3 times. Then switch sides. Done properly (and twice daily) you can improve from 60 degrees to nearly 90 degrees in 4-6 week. I did. Boy did it help my back!

This routine will take you 5-7 minutes. No excuses. Saying you have “no time” is a cop-out. People who say that really mean: “it is not a priority for me”. I hope you now see that it should be.

There are many neck stretches and back/hip stretches that can be added if you have time. If you sit a lot during the day it would be great to do this routine before AND after work. Do these and other exercises you find on-line or in books and consider joining a yoga class See a good practitioner if these exercises are not enough.

Remember, anti-aging is not only about using bioidentical hormones. It is also about getting older while standing tall, proud and free of pain. My 80 year old upright patients are justifiably proud of their youthful posture. If you want to reduce your need for medical care and drugs, get the most out of life, and be an upright, pain free 80 or even 90 year old one day, you just have to do a little daily w-o-r-k! Your body will thank you!

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