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Back pain is a finicky, stubborn ailment to diagnose. Strain can be the result of one awkward movement, a lifetime of poor posture, stress at the office--even bad nutrition.

Back pain is a finicky, stubborn ailment to diagnose. Strain can be the result of one awkward movement, a lifetime of poor posture, stress at the office even bad nutrition. And while a doctor can easily pinpoint a herniated disk or discover a spinal infection with a blood test, a strain won't show up on an X-ray. As a result, as few as 10 percent of back pain cases lead to a specific diagnosis. And with 80 percent of the population slated to suffer at least some back discomfort during life, preventive efforts are definitely in order.

Luckily, difficult-to-diagnose doesn't mean difficult-to-treat. Strains usually react well to stretching and exercise. Almost nine out of 10 back-pain sufferers recover within a week. Exercise helps you recover quickly and drastically cuts the chances of falling victim to your back pain again. These exercises are simple, quick and can be done in the home--all you need is a floor and a wall!

If you're just recovering from a bout of back pain, avoid any exercise for two days to a week, then start with mild stretches. And if your back discomfort is accompanied by bladder or bowel control problems, numbness or tingling in your legs, see your health care practitioner.

Full Body Stretch

This movement relaxes your entire frame and all of your spine. Stand, arms at your side, toes pointing inwards with your weight mainly on the balls of your feet. Lift your arms in the air, over and behind your head, reaching for the sky. You should be able to hold this for 10 seconds, repeating it five to 10 times.

Cat and Camel

The fancy name for this stretch is a lumbar flexion. From an all-fours position, arch your lower back slightly, tightening your abdominal muscles and letting your head drop slightly. Hold for 10 seconds. Then let your back sag gently to the floor, keeping your arms straight. Hold for 10. Alternate between arching and sagging up to 20 times, until your back feels loose.

Shoulder Shrug

An oft-overlooked stretch that relaxes the muscles of your neck and upper back. Stand comfortably, lift your shoulders in an exaggerated shrug, then relax. Repeat for five.

Leg Pulls

This is a simple family of stretches that relaxes spastic, rigid muscles while strengthening and stretching the entire back.

Lie on your back, legs extended and relaxed, arms at your sides. Lift your left arm over your head, turning your head to the left and bringing your opposite knee up to your chest, or as far as comfort allows. Lower and reverse right arm, left leg. Movements should be slow, smooth and continuous.

As you get better with this stretch, try both legs: lie on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor. Bring both knees up toward your chest, holding for 10 seconds. Increase the bending as you're able.

Press Up

This stretches your abdominals and isolates the lower back. Lie on your stomach, feet slightly apart, resting your forehead on the floor. Place your hands, palm down, at face level. Now use your arms to gently push your upper body to a resting position on your elbows. Hold until you feel comfortable. To go to the next level, simply continue to push up (hands still on the floor) as high as possible. Remember, this isn't a push up keep your hips and legs flat on the floor at all points.

The Chair

Most difficult of the standing exercises, this is excellent for the lower back and abdominal muscles. Stand with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart, heels against the wall. With short, alternating steps, move away from the wall, bending your knees and always keeping your head, mid and lower back against the wall. Slide down as far as your strength will allow, to a maximum of a sitting position or knee angle of 90 degrees. While descending, tighten your leg and stomach muscles. Now, with your upper body still in contact with the wall, slide yourself back up the wall. Try to repeat two or three times.

The Bridge

Lie flat on your back, arms by your side, palms down. Raise both your knees, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Raise your hips as far off the floor as you can without discomfort. Lower and repeat five to 10 times.

Leg and Arm Reaches

An important family of exercises that strengthens your shoulders, your upper back and your buttocks. Start on your hands and knees, weight evenly distributed, neck parallel to the floor. Now extend one leg straight out backwards, while simultaneously reaching forward with the opposite arm. Keep everything leg, torso, neck and arm parallel to the floor. Hold for a count of three. Alternate sides. If simultaneous legs and arms are too much for you, just start with leg extensions and work toward including the arm reach.

Lumbar Rotation

Lie flat on your back with your arms extended along your sides. Once again raise your knee, but then slowly cross it over your body, as if you were trying to touch the floor on the opposite side of your body. Keep your shoulders flat against the floor. Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat five to 10 times per side. As you advance, try this stretch with both legs simultaneously.

Pelvis Tilt

The last of the "on your back" stretches. Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Press your lower back (where the small gap is between you and the floor) to the floor by squeezing your stomach and gluteal (behind) muscles. Then smoothly raise your behind off the floor. Hold for five seconds, and repeat five to 10 times.



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