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The 9 Best Back Exercises According to Physical Therapists – Forbes Health

Single and double knee on the chest

“Knee-to-chest exercises gently stretch the muscles of the lower back and encourage relaxation of tight back muscles,” says Dr. Katz.

How to do it:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor, shoulders apart
  • Pull the left knee towards the chest and keep the right foot on the floor.
  • Hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat on the opposite side
  • Try pulling both knees into your chest at the same time for a deeper lower back stretch.
  • People with osteoporosis should avoid double knee stretches.

Cat Cow

“The cat-cow exercise promotes flexibility of the spine in flexion and extension, as well as release of muscle tension in the back muscles,” explains Dr. Katz.

How to do it:

  • Start in a tabletop position with your hands directly under your shoulders, knees bent and in line with your hips and shins resting on the floor.
  • As you inhale into cow pose, allow your torso to expand with the air as it reaches toward the floor, your back arching. Gently move your gaze upwards.
  • As you exhale into cat pose, pull your navel toward your spine and round your back. Let gravity bring your head down to the floor.
  • Alternate cow and cat poses in accordance with your breath. Repeat five to 10 times.
  • Start with small movements and work your way up to more spinal flexion.

Stretching the Piriformis muscle (Stretching in Figure Four)

“The figure-four stretch is a gentle way to stretch and relax the muscles of the buttocks and lower back,” says Dr. Katz.

How to do it:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor, shoulders apart.
  • Lift your left foot and place your ankle over the top of your right knee, allowing your left knee to open slightly to the left side of the room. Keep your left foot bent.
  • For a deeper stretch, reach your hands around your right thigh and gently pull your legs closer to your chest.
  • Hold the stretch for 10 to 20 seconds.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.
  • Alternatively, this stretch can be performed while sitting on a chair.

Member of the Forbes Health Advisory Board Joshua Riedersclinical director and physical therapist at Spear Physical Therapy in New York, suggests the following exercises to increase back muscle strength and prevent injury.

Pallof Press

“(Pallof press is) an excellent exercise for strengthening the multifidus, a group of small, deep back muscles that function to support rotational, anterior and lateral stability of the spine,” says Dr. Rieders.

How to do it:

  • Attach a resistance band to a stable vertical structure at approximately chest height.
  • Stand next to the structure that attaches the resistance band with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a resistance band with both hands in front of your chest and elbows bent at your sides.
  • Move laterally away from the anchor point (keeping feet parallel) so that there is tension in the resistance band.
  • Keeping your core and glutes engaged, press your arms straight out in front of you, resisting the lateral tension created by the band.
  • Hold this position for two to three seconds.
  • Row your arms back to the starting position.
  • Perform three sets of eight to 12 repetitions.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

For this move, Dr. Rieders emphasizes the importance of keeping your core muscles engaged throughout. “Don’t let your torso rotate as you press the band forward,” he says. “Keep breathing during the exercise.”

Lying pressure

“In individuals with sciatica symptoms, such as pain, numbness, tingling, or burning in the leg(s), the bench press is a fundamental exercise to take advantage of a repetitive, stretch-based movement that promotes displacement of a bulging disc that can press on the femoral nerve roots in the lower back,” says Dr. Rieders.

How to do it:

  • Lie on your stomach with your hands on the floor by your shoulders.
  • Keeping your lower back and buttocks relaxed, push yourself up and away from the floor using only your hands, creating a natural arch in your back. Your legs remain extended and relaxed behind you throughout the movement.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Do three sets of 20 repetitions.

“Keep your hips in contact with the floor and keep your chin gently tucked in throughout the exercise,” advises Dr. Rieders.

Posterior tilt of the pelvis

“(The posterior pelvic tilt) is a great, safe exercise that engages the abdominal muscles to reduce pressure on the lower back,” says Dr. Rieders. He notes that the movement is especially beneficial for people who work at a desk, as sitting for long periods of time can weaken the abdominal muscles by detraining the core muscles.

How to do it:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-width apart on the floor.
  • Slowly and gently tilt your hip bones forward so that the space between your lower back and the floor disappears. Hold this position, noting the complete connection of the back to the floor and the posterior tilt of the pelvis. Return to the starting position and repeat three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.

“Make sure you only move your pelvis and lower back, and keep the rest of your body relaxed,” he explains.

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