Physical Health

Stretches & Exercises for Osteoarthritis Back Pain

Osteoarthritis (OA) of the back can occur at any point along the spine. It causes pain in the neck, mid, or lower back. Pain management services offer effective treatments to reduce or even eliminate OA pain without surgery. In addition to non-invasive medical treatments, a pain management therapist might prescribe targeted exercises to help strengthen involved muscles and alleviate discomfort.

Gentle Stretching and Low Impact Exercise for Osteoarthritis

When you’re in pain, it’s understandable that the last thing you feel like doing is exercising. Especially when just moving around the house for daily activities increases your discomfort. But gentle stretching and low-impact exercises really can help. Exercises that focus on strengthening the muscles that surround your spine are especially helpful.

Exercise shouldn’t be painful. Only stretch or move to your tolerance. Don’t “push through” if it hurts. The suggested movements below may even feel good as you stretch out tired, tight muscles.

Knee to Chest

This simple exercise helps increase flexibility in the hips and lower spine.

Lie on your back with both legs extended. Slowly bend one leg, bringing the knee toward your chest until you feel a stretch along your lower back and into the hip. Hold your knee in place with your hands for stability. Keep the position for five seconds, and slowly lower the leg. Perform 10 repetitions on each leg once daily.

Side Stretch

Poor posture and OA pain go hand-in-hand. Pain makes you stoop and slouch. The more you stoop and slouch, the worse pain gets. Exercises that focus on posture are an effective way to break the cycle. Use light strength training to build the important muscles that help improve posture.

Stand in place with a one- or two-pound weight* in one hand. Slowly slide the weight down the side of your thigh to your knee, stretching to the side as far as is comfortable. Slowly raise back up to the starting position. Perform 10 repetitions on each side twice a week.

*If holding weights is uncomfortable, perform the exercise without them.

Hamstring Stretch

OA can cause the hamstring muscles to tighten. This exercise stretches the hamstrings and improves flexibility in the lower back. You’ll need a strap, a belt, or a long towel for this exercise.

Lie on your back with both legs extended. Loop the strap (or belt/towel around the bottom of one foot. Using the strap as support, raise your leg until you feel a stretch at the back of your knee and into the thigh. Pull back on the strap to hold the stretch comfortably. Hold for up to 30 seconds. Slowly lower your leg. Perform 3 repetitions on each side once daily.

Tai Chi

While yoga is often recommended for easing back pain, many of the postures can be difficult for people with OA to perform. Getting up and down from the floor is also problematic when movement is limited. 

The slow, gentle stretches of Tai chi are a wonderful alternative to yoga. Many Tai chi poses focus on the waist and spinal stretching. The activity does not stress the spine as yoga can, and it helps improve balance. An experienced Tai chi instructor will help beginners modify movements to accommodate for severe pain.

Exercise or Pain Management Services? Choose Both

The pain management experts at St. Louis Pain Consultants encourage patients to try a multi-pronged approach to alleviate back pain. Exercise and stretching alone probably won’t eliminate severe pain. But when coupled with other therapies such as facet injections or steroid injections, the benefits of exercise multiply.

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