Stretches for helping back ache

Yoga challenge: “I tried these stretches every day for a month – and they’ve cured my chronic back ache”

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Back ache is the modern plague that gets every desk worker sooner or later. If can’t afford to see a chiropractor on the regular (or quit your job), are you supposed to live with the pain? Not, writes Mollie Quirk, if you have five minutes a day to follow a simple back-stretching yoga routine.

These days, it’s more unusual to say that you don’t have backache than you do. After nearly two years of working from our kitchen tables/beds/sofas, our backs are screaming, our hips are tight and our minds are scrambled. 

My own backache began last summer. I’d been working between the sofa and a low vintage bureau and by June, my breakfasts were laced with paracetamol or ibuprofen. I could work, but clearly something needed to change – and that something had to be my posture.

This will be a familiar story to many; a new study by Bupa has found that since lockdown began, 11 million people have suffered aches and pains due to working from home. 

My first port of call was to buy a new desk and a better office chair. It’s all well and good having a cow print office chair, but if it’s not comfy or doing your back any favours, it’s probably not worth the cash. With a pink mesh orthopaedic chair and a desk at the proper height, I was able to work efficiently but the pain didn’t subside. So, I decided that something more drastic needed to happen – a 30-day fitness challenge that would transform my posture and fix my back.

I spoke to Adam Byrne, a physiotherapist at Bupa Health Clinics, to see what he recommended. He explained that poor posture can lead to muscle imbalance which results in pain throughout the back. Armed with his recommended exercises, I scoured the internet for more posture-correcting exercises and stretches to try. I was bombarded with an array of results, but decided to focus on two different techniques/routines from two different experts. 

Emi Wong was the first YouTuber I stumbled across. With almost 5 million subscribers and thousands of comments boasting success from her tips and tricks, how could I not give her advice a go? But then I then found AskDoctorJo’s YouTube channel and was instantly drawn in by the array of videos she had posted on back pain. With almost 2 million subs, she was a definite contender.

I decided to alternate between Emi and Jo for the first two days to see which technique and sets of exercises suited me best and what worked efficiently and quickly.

After months of working at a shoddy work station, I decided to embark on a month-long stretch challenge to sort my back pain out once and for all.
After months of working at a shoddy work station, I decided to embark on a month-long stretch challenge to sort my back pain out once and for all.

On day one, I tried Jo’s routine but it just didn’t work for me – I found the videos long-winded and tricky to understand, especially as a fitness novice. I jumped straight into Emi’s video after watching five minutes of Jo, and was instantly drawn in with the way she presented the exercises. I was able to understand with ease and found that I could do the exercises alongside her.

So, what is Emi Wong’s Fix Your Posture in 10 Minutes all about? There are 10 different exercises that last for 50 seconds each, with a 10-second rest between each exercise. It’s so easy to follow that by the end of week one, I no longer needed to watch the video during my workout – I could just listen as I moved. 

The 10-minute posture-fixing workout

Chest opener

  1. Sitting on the floor cross-legged with your arms up behind your head, open your elbows and close them – squeezing your shoulder blades together. 

Repeating this for 50 seconds, my arms did feel a little heavy at first but after about day four, my arms felt stronger and more supple, which made the exercise easier.

Wall slide

The second move is the wall slide, which I found super easy and gentle on my back. 

  1. Sitting cross-legged with your back flat against the wall, raise your arms above your head with them also flat on the wall. 
  2. You then slide your arms down the wall, bending your elbows and repeat for 50 seconds.

Table top lift

Slightly awkward to do at first, this move is reminiscent of the crab/bridge that I used to do in gym class. It was super difficult at first but I persevered and by week three I could do this move far better than my first attempt.

  1. Get into a table top position (on your hands and knees) before lifting your core up and down for 50 seconds.

Glute bridge

  1. With your head and shoulders on the floor, raise your bum, core and thighs for 50 seconds with your arms under your back and your fingers laced.

 Staying in this position takes a bit of concentration, but I found that this really stretched my back well and left me feeling as though I had done it some good.

All four twist

  1. Go into table top, keeping one hand on the ground as you twist to the opposite side.
  2. Raising the other arm and looking up to the sky. You continue with one arm for 25 seconds and then swap. If you want to make this more tricky, alternate between left to right every few seconds.

Ab stretch

As a big fan of yoga, I was already familiar with the ab stretch because it’s almost exactly the same as the classic cobra pose. Holding this pose for 50 seconds was a little tricky at first and my arms did shake, but it got easier as the days went on.

  1. Lie on your front with your forearms resting on the ground. Extend to raise your chest and core, stretching your stomach and back as you look up. 

Down dog twist

Much like the downward facing dog, this twist exercise really pulls on your back – which is such a great feeling after being hunched over a laptop all day. 

  1. Get into downward dog by starting off standing. 
  2. Bending the knees, lean forwards to bring your hands to the floor and walk them forward until you’re in a kind of triangle with your bum in the air, your arms straight and your knees softly bent.
  3. Take your right hand off the floor and stretch to touch your left toes (keeping your other hand firmly on the ground). Hold for 25 seconds.
  4. Now go back to downward dog and repeat on the other side for 25 seconds. 

Back squeeze pulse

  1. Lie on your stomach with your chest and core slightly raised. 
  2. Move your arms out in front of you, bring back and then squeeze together in a pulsating movement for three repetitions before moving your arms back and forth, continuing the process for 50 seconds. 

This exercise burns a little but really helps to loosen up your shoulders.

Back swim

Still lying on the floor on your front, back swimming takes a lot of stamina and can feel exhausting, but it’s such a good exercise for your back and core. 

  1. Lying on the floor with your legs and core slightly raised, put your arms out in front of you before mimicking a breast stroke motion over and over for 50 seconds. 

With this move you can really feel your shoulders rotating and your back squeezing in the middle. 

Cat cow tap

Lastly, the cat cow tap is a really great move to end on. This exercise releases almost all the tension built up throughout the workout.

  1. Kneeling down with your hands on the floor in front of you, round your back and then breathe deeply before arching it in and out. 
  2. The rest of the exercise consists of raising one leg, reaching for it with the opposite hand and then arching your back and breathing out. 
  3. You alternate sides for the full 50 seconds. 

The first time I completed the full workout, I was absolutely exhausted and felt burnt out. But by the time week one had come to a close, I was in the swing of things and felt rejuvenated and refreshed. The movements soon became second nature, and each day, my back felt a little better.

By the end of the entire month of following Emi’s routine, I was shocked at how far I had come. After work every day, I would stop for a break before heading to my room to practise this routine, and one month on, I was almost pain free. I still do the routine every day and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable because not only is it super easy to fit into my day-to-day life, but it actually works

Even taking a one-minute break from my desk in the middle of the day to do one of these exercises for 50 seconds has proved to be a game changer. So, what are you waiting for?

Got a bad back? Check out our library of 15-minute mobility classes designed to lengthen, strengthen and release.

Images: Getty/author’s own

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