According to the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine, an estimated 80 percent of people from Western countries have experienced low-back pain, which often results from lordosis, or misalignment of the low back. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke states that "exercise may be the most effective way to speed recovery from low back pain." An exercise routine to relieve low-back pain and realign the spine commonly includes stretching, walking, strength training and yoga.
The cat-cow exercise is derived from yoga and involves flexing and extending the spine to increase spinal awareness — or help you feel where your back is in space — and stretch the spinal muscles. Begin kneeling on all fours with a straight back. On an inhalation, extend your back, bringing the tip of your tailbone and crown of your head up toward the sky. As you exhale, arch your back the other direction, tucking your tailbone under and arching your middle-back up toward the ceiling. Continue to follow your breath and alternate movements for 10 to 20 repetitions.
Twisting the spine is important for spinal alignment because it warms and moves the natural lubricants that surround the vertebrae. To perform a spinal twist, begin seated and extend your left leg in front of you on the floor. Bend your right knee and cross your right leg over your left leg. Your right foot should rest on the floor to the left of your left leg. Draw the crown of your head toward the ceiling so your back is flat. Using your right knee for leverage, twist your torso to the right, leading with your rib cage. Twist as far as you can go comfortably without allowing your back to slump. Hold 15 to 30 seconds. Release and repeat on the other side.
The low lunge, also called Warrior I in yogic practice, stretches the hip flexor musles. The hip flexors are important postural muscles but often become too tight from prolonged sitting. These muscles end up pulling on the pelvis where they attach, over-stretching the low back and causing back pain. To perform a low lunge, begin kneeling on your right knee as though you were proposing to someone. Turn your right toes under so the top of the right foot and shin rest on the floor. Slide the right leg backward slightly until you feel a stretch in the front of your right leg. Sit up tall, and press your right hip forward so that the stretch is felt mainly in the front of the hip. Hold 15 to 30 seconds, then repeat with the left leg forward.
The hamstrings are another group of postural muscles that attach at the pelvis and often cause problems from over-tightness. To stretch your hamstrings, sit on the floor with your left leg extended. Bend your right knee, and place the sole of your right foot on the inside of your left thigh. Sit up tall with a flat back, and gently hinge forward from your hips until you feel a stretch in the back of your left leg. Do not allow your back to slump. Hold 15 to 30 seconds, and repeat the stretch on your right leg.
Squat With Pelvic Movements
The squat strengthens the muscles of the lower body, and the pelvic movements will stretch your lower back and increase spinal awareness. To begin, stand with feet hips distance apart. Bend your knees, and bring your hips back and down. When your thighs are nearly parallel with the floor, tuck your tailbone under to flex your low back and hold for one second. Extend your low back by shifting your tailbone back behind you, and hold for one second. Return your pelvis to neutral, and extend your knees to stand up. Repeat 10 to 15 times.