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Sarah Key Back Block Exercises

As one of the UK’s leading London physiotherapists, I regularly write about injuries, treatment and assessment techniques.

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This exercise is another of Sarah Key’s, and is great for stretching your low back. You’ll need what Sarah calls a back block; they’re also known as yoga bricks. Roughly the size of a house brick, they come in a variety of materials including wood, bamboo, cork and foam — I usually use one made of solid foam, though in an emergency I have also been known to use a hardback copy of a Harry Potter book!

When we spend all day with our spines in an upright position (sitting, standing, walking, running), gravity combined with our bodyweight squashes our spinal discs, and over the course of the day they flatten out a bit. It’s not unusual to be 2cm shorter at the end of the day than you were at the start. Generally, the discs rehydrate and plump up again overnight when you’re lying flat, but over time — with age, or particularly with injury — the flattening starts to have a greater effect than the rehydration, and you develop stiff spinal segments.

Sarah’s theory is that this process is reversible if you regularly take steps to decompress your spine, and this is where the back block — coupled with the appeasing exercise I described before — comes in.

Lie on your back with knees bent

  • Lie on your back on a firm surface such as the floor, knees bent so that your feet are on the floor, and feet and knees together.
  • Squeeze your knees and buttocks together. Keeping them squeezed, roll up your spine, curling your bottom off the ground first, and — bone by bone — then your low back, mid back and upper back, until your weight is on your feet and shoulders.

Squeeze your glutes and roll up, bone by bone

Slide the brick under your pelvis

Slide your legs down and RELAX

  • Bone by bone, roll your way back down again, trying to make the space between each bone as long as possible, and making sure that when you reach your pelvis, the left and right sides hit the ground at the same time.
  • Make sure your knees and buttocks are squeezed together, and roll all the way up to your shoulders again, bone by bone.
  • This time when you are at the top, slide your back block underneath your pelvis (NOT under your low back) and roll your bottom down onto it. The block should be horizontally aligned and on its shallowest side.
  • Slide (don’t lift) one foot along the ground and away from you, and then the other. Allow your ankles to relax and roll outwards. Relax your calves, then your knees, then your thighs, buttocks, low back…
  • Let your arms roll outwards so that your palms face the ceiling, and relax completely for a minute.
  • Then slide one foot back up towards you, and then the other.
  • Squeeze your knees and buttocks together, and roll your way up off the block (at first this may be sore; don’t worry, this is quite normal and it does get better!)
  • Slide the block out from underneath your bottom, and roll down just as you did before.
  • Now do 30 seconds of the appeasing exercise, and repeat the whole thing three times.
  • Prefer video to pictures? Have a look at our YouTube channel where we have a video of this routine here!

NB — any discomfort you feel on curling up off the block should fade quickly and should improve over the first few days of practising this exercise. If it is too painful, or remains significant for more than a week of doing this, you should discontinue the exercise and seek medical advice, as your problem may be too severe or inappropriate for a back block exercise to manage.

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.

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