This exercise from legendary Australian physiotherapist Sarah Key is suitable for virtually anyone’s back, and is the first exercise I teach my patients who have low back problems. The key is to be very subtle with your movements — in this instance, less is definitely more. The idea is to gently appease the low back muscles and coax them out of spasm, muscle spasm being the body’s natural — but in this situation unhelpful — response to pain.
If you jerk or move too forcefully while doing this exercise, you are likely to stimulate the stretch receptors in the muscles, which could potentially make the spasm worse. But if you can keep your movements smooth, and “under the radar” of the stretch receptors, then it will really help to soothe your back pain.
Just lie down!
- The first step is to lie on your back on a firm surface — a folded blanket on the floor is fine, or in my therapy rooms I use a yoga mat.
- Pull your tummy in gently, as this supports your spine, and bring one knee up to your chest. Hold the knee in the same hand — i.e. if you have lifted your right knee, hold it in your right hand.
Knees to chest
- Keeping your tummy pulled in, bring the other knee up to join the first, and hold it in the other hand.
- Cross your ankles, and drop your knees apart, still holding them in your hands. Let your tummy relax.
- Producing the movement with your hands, move your knees gently back and forth, left and right, until you find that your weight is over the sore part of your back. This is where the muscles need to let go. Oscillate your knees gently and repeatedly over this area — I describe this to my patients as “ironing the spine” — for a minute or two until the muscle relaxes and the pain subsides.
- After a minute or two, use your hands to bring your knees back to the middle, pull your tummy in gently, and then lower first one foot to the floor and then the other. Rest for a minute or two and then repeat twice more.
- On the second and third repetition of the exercise, you may find that the sorest spot in your back has moved a bit. Hunt around until you find it; but remember to keep the movements subtle and gentle.
- Prefer video to pictures? Have a look at our YouTube channel where we have a video of this routine!
If your back is really sore, you may need to do this exercise very regularly, perhaps as often as every hour at first. Some people also find that heat is helpful, so you may also want to try using a hot water bottle on your back (obviously, all the usual precautions apply here: please don’t burn or scald yourself!)
NB — Please note that although I am an experienced physiotherapist, unless I have examined you, I am unable to give individual advice about your specific case. Every case is different, and this blog reflects cases I have seen in the past and is not a substitute for individual medical advice. You must not rely on the information on my website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. If you have any specific questions about any medical matter, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice or discontinue medical treatment because of information on my blog. However, if you would like individual advice, please do call 0207 175 0150 to arrange an assessment.