If your burden is heavy, be kind to your back. A recent study by the National Institutes of Health found that 80 percent of Americans experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. Employers take note. The productivity lost to back pain is about $28 billion annually.
"The problem is so big probably because our lifestyles have become increasingly sedentary. Office workers at a desk or with repetitive motion — both are hard on the back," says Bruce Mendelson, lead physical therapist at Providence Medical Center's new Central Point clinic.
Fortunately, many cases of back pain can be healed with as little as 15 minutes a day of the following program of stretching and strengthening exercises used by Mendelson.
1. The Dishrag
Lying on your bed just after waking, stretch out your arms at shoulder level. Bend your knees and rotate them first to one side, then the other, as you turn your head in the opposite direction. Hold each position for 10 seconds. Work up to 10 repetitions.
While on your back, flex and hold one knee and bring it to the opposite shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds then switch legs.
While standing with legs and back straight, raise one foot onto a stool and lean slowly over the leg until you feel a stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs.
4. Hip Flexor
Kneel on your right knee and stretch your left leg and foot out straight in a lunging position. Leading with the chest and keeping the back straight, lean forward. Hold for 20 seconds. Switch legs.
Lie on your back with knees bent and hands behind your head. Pull your bellybutton toward your pelvis. Lift just enough to get the shoulder blades off the floor. Hold for two to three seconds. Work toward 50 repetitions.
6. Abdominal Bracing
Start as in a curl-up. Slowly lift one knee then straighten the leg. Hold for five seconds. Bend leg then lower to the floor. Switch legs.
Start as in a curl-up, then bring opposite hand and leg together and push. While maintaining pressure, slowly lift opposite foot. Hold for five seconds then switch sides.
8. Lumbar-Core Stabilizer
Lie on back, lift both feet and draw knees toward chest. Use abdominals to press lower back into floor. While maintaining contraction, slowly straighten one leg until heel is just above the floor. Hold for two seconds, then slowly bring the leg back with control and extend the other leg. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
9. Bridge Extension
Start as in bridge but lift and extend your right leg. Focus on balance. Work toward 10 repetitions for both bridge exercises.
Practice the stretches daily and core exercises every other day. As you develop flexibility and strength, you'll feel like holding the exercises longer. Your back will thank you.