Spinal damage in youth can be easily shrugged off, but as we age those pains can come back with a vengeance. If you were a gymnast or a participant in contact sports in your youth, you may have unknowingly put a great deal of stress on your low back. Managing this pain as you age will take regular strengthening and stretching exercises.
1. Knee to Chest Stretch
Make sure you invest in a yoga mat or pair a foam pad with a yoga mat to give yourself a lot of cushions before you lie on your back on the floor. Lay flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat. Pull one knee to the chest and hold, pulling in your navel and flattening your low back as you can tolerate it. Switch knees, then try both knees to fully engage your core. If you can tolerate it, do this stretch in the morning and the evening.
2. Low Back Twist
From this lying position, put your knees together and twist to lower the outside of your leg to the floor. Use a yoga block to support your leg for more cautious spondylolisthesis exercises. Put your elbows out to the side to support your upper body and keep your shoulders flat.
3. Bridge Pose
Still, in the same spot on the floor, tuck your navel in and press your bottom up, balancing your weight on your shoulders and your feet. Keep your chin up, or at least strive to keep your neck loose and do three deep inhalations and exhalations, then lower your bottom. Rest for a few breaths, then repeat to build up to 5 reps. If you can get up to 30 reps, you can do a great deal to strengthen your core and protect against vulnerable spinal challenges.
4. Low Back Flex/Stretch
From the mat, take a deep breath and exhale slowly, pressing your low back to the mat. Release and inhale. If you can tolerate it, on the next inhalation, arch your low back just from the buttocks to the bottom ribs. If you can’t tolerate this, just do the flattening and come back to your normal relaxed state.
5. Cat/Cow Stretch
Pull your knees to your chest and roll into a seated position. If you can’t tolerate this, roll onto your side, move the top leg into a 90-degree bend and roll up onto your hands and knees. Make sure your knees are right below your hips and your hands are right below your shoulders. Lower your head and arch your low back so the spine curves toward the ceiling. Next, draw your tummy in tight, lift your head, and press the spine down. It’s critical that you only do the cow stretch in a very controlled manner. If your tummy muscles aren’t strong or have been damaged due to surgery, do not overdo this stretch.
6. Seated Low Back Stretch
If you struggle to get to the floor, there are many exercises you can do on a chair. Use a chair that allows you to stay square: 90 degrees at the knee and 90 degrees at the hip. From here, you can simply lower your chest to your thighs. Reach forward and touch your feet, or keep your hands crossed over your chest. Sit up straight and cross your right leg over your left, then place the left elbow over the right knee and slowly twist, then reverse. During any twisting exercise, make sure you focus on core strength by pulling your tummy in tight.
7. Upper Back Stretch
While in the chair, pull your elbows up and place your fingertips on your shoulders. Lower your chin to stretch your neck. Lift your head and gently pull your right elbow across your chest. Hold for a count of three, and switch sides. Once your upper back is loose, gently stretch your neck by tilting your ear to your shoulder on the right, coming back to the center, tilting to the left, and coming back to the center. Finally, open your mouth a bit and tilt your head back, letting your jaw go slack before coming back to the center.
Avoid uncontrolled stretches. Stay mindful of your tummy muscles every time you start your stretching routine to avoid pulling on old damage and creating new problems. There may be days when you can’t get on the mat. Never stretch to the point of pain.