Most of us spend hours at the office, sitting on a chair (that is perhaps not ergonomically designed), with our necks bent towards a computer screen. This sort of sedentary lifestyle can very quickly lead to back aches and a proclivity towards slip disks and other injuries. The most important step to protect our backs is to maintain a good posture. However, this in itself takes practice and strong core muscles.
The core muscles that support the spine include the extensors, the flexors and the obliques.
The extensor muscles are attached to back of the spine and enable standing and lifting objects.
The flexor muscles are attached to the front of the spine and enable flexing, bending forward, lifting, and arching the lower back.
The oblique muscles are attached to the sides of the spine and help rotate the spine and maintain proper posture.
Additionally, we need strong abdominal muscles, pelvic muscles and supple hamstrings.
Back muscles, like any other muscle in the body, require adequate exercise to maintain strength and tone. While muscles like the glutes (in the thighs) are used whenever we walk, deep back muscles and abdominal muscles are usually not actively engaged during everyday activities. Unless these muscles are specifically exercised, they tend to weaken with age.
An episode of lower back pain that lasts for more than two weeks can lead to muscle wasting and weakening which in turn causes more back pain because the muscles are less able to hold up the spine. Chronic stress can also lead to muscle weakness and back pain. Stress causes back muscles to tighten in a fight or flight response, depriving muscles of energy needed to support the spine.
I would like to share a few stretches and exercises, which if repeated every morning, can help us strengthen our backs and greatly reduce the chance of injury.
1. Climbing a rope – reach up to the sky with your arms and pretend you are climbing a rope. This will stretch and lengthen your obliques. Do 10 sets.
2. Dead bug – lay flat on the ground, then hug your knees to your heart. This stretches out the lower back. Hold for 20 seconds.
3. Single-bended leg stretch – lay flat on the ground, then pull one knee to your heart, then the other knee. Alternate legs. Do 10 sets.
4. Torso twist – lay flat on the ground, then pull one knee to your heart, and then across the front of your body. Hold for 20 seconds.
5. Cat pose – get on all fours, like a cat, then lift your head up, heart to the sky, inhale. Lower your head down, arch your back high like you are making a bridge, draw the tailbone to the forehead, exhale. Repeat 10 times.
I hope this helps you!
Shazia Omar is a writer, an activist and a yogini.