Easing Back Pain, Easily

Back pain sufferers may be only a book away from better days.

Personal trainers and physical therapists Jim and Phil Wharton say there are relatively quick and simple ways to relieve back pain, as you develop and maintain a strong and flexible back.

Their new offering, "The Whartons' Back Book," seeks to help readers understand how the back works, and why back problems are often linked to injuries in other parts of the body.

The Whartons say you can ease pain and keep your back strong with a simple 20-minute routine customized to fit your lifestyle.

They've worked with celebrity clients such as Patrick Ewing, Lance Armstrong, and many of the U.S. track and field Olympic medal winners.

The Whartons acknowledge that, when your back isn't strong or flexible enough to move freely through a proper range of motion, even the simplest every-day activity can result in discomfort, pain and injury. Reports now indicate that as much as 80 percent of the population will experience back problems stemming from a restricted range of motion at one point or another.

And the authors caution that pain and discomfort are warning signs from our body encouraging us to modify our activity - or lack thereof - to avoid more serious injury. Unfortunately, we don't always listen. As the main mast of the skeletal system, the back has the unenviable responsibility of helping us withstand the accumulating effects of gravity, inactivity and age.

So how can you help your back stay or get back in the game?

The Whartons offer numerous ways to restore the all-important joint range-of-motion necessary to keep your back strong and flexible, to reduce pain:

THE NECK

The neck is indeed part of the back. Loss of strength and range of motion in this area will lead to pain and discomfort not only in the neck, but also in the shoulders and upper back. The following two routines will help eliminate pain and build strength:

  • Neck Extensors: Place one hand on the chin for guidance and the other hand behind the head for gentle assistance. Use the muscles in the front of the neck to gently lengthen the head forward. Hold for one second at the end of the movement. Repeat 5-7 times. (Exercise #23 in the book)
  • Neck Lateral Flexors: Place the same side hand of the direction you are reaching on the side of your head while keeping the opposite shoulder down. Use the same side neck muscles to move your head to the side with gentle assistance from your hand at the end of the movement. Hold for one second at the end of the movement. Repeat 5-7 times. (Exercise #24 in the book)

    THE UPPER BACK

    The upper back is the area of the body from just below the neck down to the spine, at the lowest rib. It is also the area where people typically carry the most tension. Left untreated, this tension can manifest itself as adhesions and scar tissue set deep into the muscle fiber, which in turn can lead to more serious injury. The following two exercises will help release the tension and restore joint range of motion in this important area:

  • Pectoralis Majors: Do while seated or standing with abdominal muscles engaged. Lock your elbows and reach your arms behind you to your natural end-range of motion. Hold for one second. Repeat 7-10 times. Your palms will face forward and you begin with your arms below your waist and, with each repetition, raise your arms until they are above your shoulders. (Exercise #15 in the book)

    2. Rotator Cuff 1: Do while seated or standing with abdominal muscles engaged. Lock your exercising elbow and bring it across your chest. Gently assist at the end of movement with non-exercising hand just above your elbow. Hold for one second at the end of the movement. Repeat 7-10 times. (Exercise #19 in the book)

    THE LOWER BACK

    This is the part of the back represented from the lowest rib to the waist. It is here that the large lumbar vertebrae bear most of the body's weight and incur the most stress of movement. This stress can generate any number of painful conditions as a result of improperly aligned hips and fatigued, over-compensating muscles. If you suffer from lower back pain and your physician has ruled out serious injury, try the following exercises:

  • Trunk Extensors: Sit on a flat surface with your back straight and your knees bent. Tuck your chin down and use your abdominal muscles to bring your trunk down between your legs. Hold for a second at your end range of motion while gently assisting with your hands at your ankles. Repeat 8-10 times. (Exercise #11 in the book - For the trunk rotators you may also perform Exercise #12 in the book.) These exercises may also be performed seated.
  • Sacrospinalis-Modified: Lie on your stomach with a rolled towel or pillow under your hips to take pressure off your back. Your arms are relaxed at your sides. Lock your knees, keeping your legs straight and toes pointed away from you. Lift your legs off the surface until you feel the muscles in your buttocks engage. Pause. Slowly return to the start position. Repeat 10 times. (Exercise #34 in the book)