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Exercise for a healthy back

The most common question I hear is, “How do I stop this nagging back pain?”

In most cases, simple exercise and weight reduction should relieve your pain. With serious back pain or injury, consult a doctor first.
Here are some suggestions to soothe your back:

Did you know?

FACT: Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on low back pain, the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work.

— National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

FACT: A 1996 Finnish study found that persons who continued their activities without bed rest following onset of low back pain had better back flexibility than those who rested in bed for a week. Other studies suggest that bed rest alone may make back pain worse and can lead to secondary complications such as decreased muscle tone and blood clots in the legs.

FACT: At night or during rest, people with low-back pain should lie on one side, with a pillow between the knees. Some doctors suggest resting on the back and putting a pillow beneath the knees.

FACT: Thirty-one million Americans have low back pain at any given time

First of all, walk — on a treadmill if you own one, or around your neighborhood or office. Walking is a safe and natural way to build up weakened lower erector muscles. Twenty minutes a day will do. Monitor your breathing while walking.

Next comes the most important part of any exercise program for the back: stretching.

For lower-back pain, try these three stretches:

1. The cat and the camel stretch.

Place your hands and knees on the floor with a pad under you. Pull your head under, (your chin should touch your chest) and arch your back like an angry cat. Hold for three seconds, breathe and release.

Repeat three to four times. The camel part of the stretch reverses the movement. Pull head back to shoulders so you’re looking up at the ceiling, and arch back like a camel. Hold three seconds, breathe and release. Do three to four times.

2. The prayer stretch

Again using a floor mat, sit on your knees, place your hands together in front of you, then lean forward and stretch your arms out in front of you on the floor. Hold for three to four seconds and breathe. Return to upright sitting position. Repeat three to four times.

3. Floor lower-back stretch

Lie down on the floor with your knees bent and your feet resting flat on the floor. Slowly pull your knees into your chest and wrap your arms around your thighs behind the knees. Go slowly at first and pull as far as your body will allow. Hold for 30 seconds, relax and return to starting position. Do three to four sets.

Do these simple stretches two to three times a day for best results. Always move very slowly and don’t forget to breathe.

A simple breathing exercise is to breathe in for the slow count of three, hold for the count of three, and slowly exhale for the count of three. Practice this daily.

Guy Salerno is a personal trainer who lives in the
Applegate Valley.