Most people suffer from some kind of back pain. We lead sedentary lives working at desks, or sitting on couches. If this happens too long between exercising, your back can start to feel tight and stiff. You start to miss things that aren’t happening right in front of you because you’re afraid to crane your neck.
A quick way to test your body’s flexibility and your back’s response is to try touching your toes. Take it easy and go slowly – if your back is already in pain you don’t want to make it worse. Toe touches are a common way to see your back’s range of motion.
If you run out of range of motion during a toe touch, your body compensates, which ends in pain. You can tweak the protective layers in your spinal column, pinch a nerve, or do far worse damage. You’ve only got one spine, so it is best to see a doctor before assessing yourself.
To test your range of motion, stand with your feet together, knees facing straight forward, and very slightly bent. Now slowly bend down and try to touch your toes. Take note of how far you can go down, and how it feels through your legs and back.
Better Than Average
If you can reach your toes you’re doing better than average. Be able to bend far enough to touch your toes is ideal, but most can only make it to the middle of their lower leg, or their tibia. If you can touch your tibia, your range of motion is average. Anything above the middle of your lower leg is considered poor.
So let’s get to these simple remedies already! You can do each of these from home – from your bed, if you wanted to! But it is best to do these on a solid surface, like the floor or ground, with something soft like a yoga mat underneath you. There is too much bounce-back on beds, and you may end up hurting your back even worse.
Alligator breathing – 2 minutes
Lay flat on your stomach, with your arms crossed and your forehead resting on your arms. Breathe slowly, into your stomach, and exhale. Your exhale should be longer than your inhale. When inhaling, your lower back should rise before your upper back. Pause at the end of each exhale. Do this for 2 minutes.
This exercise calms your nervous system, reduces muscle tone and tension, and loosens up your lower back. While doing this exercise focus your attention on expanding your lower back with each breath.
Repeated Flexion – 1 minute
While laying on your back, bring your knees up to your chest until you can grab them. For 1 minute, pull your knees to your chest, and release. You’ll feel your spine slightly curving and stretching. Breathe normally and don’t force an aggressive stretch – this exercise is meant to be gentle and easy
Quadruped Knee Lift – 1 minute
Get on hands and knees with your toes on the ground and your arms fully extended. Fully flex your spine (push your hands against the ground) to round your back as much as possible. Exhale as much as possible. Lift your knees off the ground so you’re supported by your hands and feet while maintaining a fully flexed spine. Hold for a second or two, then lower your knees back to the ground and inhale. Keep your spine fully flexed and repeat 4 times.
This exercise will solidify the range of motion the other two exercises help you build. Proper breathing is key for this exercise, as well as the position of your back.
Toe Touch Revisited
After performing these exercises try the toe touch again and take note of the improved range of motion and decreased pain involved in the stretch. Maintain your improved motion by doing these stretches every day until you are easily able to touch your toes without warming-up.
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