Classical Stretch: Back Pain Relief and Prevention

I bought Back Pain Relief and Prevention over a year ago–just in case, hoping I would never need this workout but knowing I would eventually. Unfortunately, I woke up yesterday morning with a cranky back. I have a long history of chronic back pain. In my late 20s it would cripple me with pain. It wasn’t until I started working out and strength training regularly (early 30s) that the pain went away for an entire decade. I guess aging makes everything deteriorate, even when you are taking care of yourself. In my 40s it started giving me problems again (I am 49). Never anything as serious as when I was in my 20s. I had a few bad attacks that resolved in days rather than weeks but the majority of the time it was minor pain and I would go a year or more before it happened again.

When you have major events in your life, you tend to track time by them–it’s often easier to remember things that way than to remember exact dates (at least it is for me). So I remember things as before/after divorce (from first husband–currently happily married to #2), before/after drunk driver hit me head on, and before/after cancer. I have not had a single back attack since before cancer–so that is 2+ years. Unfortunately today breaks that streak. I do believe all the exercise I do is what keeps it from happening more often and when it does occur it is less severe. Over the past 10 years I have had imaging done all over my body for various reasons, so I know the degeneration of my cervical and lumbar spine is “severe.” Yet, I do not suffer chronic pain in my low back anymore, just occasional attacks. My neck is a different story but I attribute neck pain not just to the degeneration but also to computer work and looking down at my iPhone/iPad.

But as I said, it happens and it happened today. So I pulled out Miranda Esmonde-White‘s Classical Stretch: Back Pain Relief and Prevention to see how and if it could help me recover faster. Back Pain Relief and Prevention contains 3 routines plus an 11 minute intro by Miranda in which she explains her own history of back pain, why you get back pain, the purpose of these workouts and how to use them. From reading Miranda’s book Forever Painless, I know that to heal injuries, Miranda wants you to move since that increases blood flow and you need the blood to flow into the injured area for it to heal. Like all of Miranda’s Classical Stretch workouts, you are constantly moving in these workouts but it is all gentle slow movement. Nothing fast or strenuous… for the most part. She does have you do a few exercises that I can easily do with large and full range of motion when my back is healthy but were nearly impossible for me to do when in pain. They are both very good exercises. One is to strengthen your lower back (lay on belly, raise one or both legs and hold) and the other is the cobra yoga pose. Personally, I am not sure either of these exercises are appropriate when someone is in pain. But according to Miranda, they are the two most important exercises in the program. Now, if you suffer from chronic pain, I completely agree that they should both be done daily when your back is not hurting. But when in pain? Doesn’t make sense to me.

I am posting this review the day after doing all of these routines. So yesterday I woke with back pain. I did all 3 routines yesterday. This morning my back is actually a bit better. Is it due to these workouts? I honestly don’t know but I am sure they helped. As already mentioned, now when I have a “back attack” (this is what Miranda calls it) I scale my workouts back and do gentle things. I agree that it is important to keep moving when in pain, so I never quit exercising just because I am in pain, but I change my workouts to encourage healing. Such as doing these workouts. And my back is always better in a few days. So I am not sure the improvement I feel this morning has anything to do with these routines. If my back is still aching after work, I will do the 30 minute routine again at the end of my work day.

Upper Back Pain Relief is 10:30 minutes. Equipment: a chair. Miranda stresses being relaxed throughout this routine. You are flowing in and out of all of these exercises, not holding static stretches. The day I used this I was actually suffering low back pain but apparently the tension of holding myself in a different position due to the low back pain caused my upper and mid back to ache. So I did this routine. It didn’t cure my aches but some of the moves did feel good while doing them. However, within in minutes of completing this workout, the back strain returned as strong as pre-workout.

  1. Stand with legs wider than hip width and sway shoulders side to side
  2. Roll shoulders
  3. Round one elbow forward then do a wide circle bringing arm behind you
  4. Reach arm out in front of you on a diagonal, rounding shoulder then relax before stretching again
  5. Clasp hands in front of you and round shoulders/upper back while trying to pull hands apart; changes to pressing hands forward while rounding upper back/shoulders
  6. Raise one bent arm in front of face, place other hand on elbow and pull; straighten arm and grab wrist with other hand and pull arm across body
  7. With arm bent at waist level, place other hand on elbow and pull; straight arm, grab wrist with other hand and pull arm across body
  8. Hang forward like a rag doll and stir the pot with one arm
  9. Reach arms overhead and alternate reaching one arm higher than the other; bend elbows in front of head but arms are still raised and continue swaying side to side; continue swaying side to side with different arm movements
  10. Repeat #5
  11. Press hand/arm down toward opposite side of body while shifting hips away from where arm is pushing, alternate sides
  12. Start with arms extended out to side then clench muscles while pulling arms down, elbows into sides, release the tension and extend arms out to side
  13. Sit in chair, drop shoulders and head forward, grip the edge of the chair seat on either side of thighs and pull arms
  14. Twist torso to side, gripping chair arm with opposite hand and pull against chair arm, raising elbow
  15. Side bend, reaching arm overhead; rotate torso so you are reaching arm on a diagonal; bend the elbow, rounding shoulder and pulling arm behind you
  16. Grip the sides of the chair and pull down; tilt head to side; tilt head forward; tilt head to other side; with head upright, turn head to side

Lower Back Pain Relief is 13:30 minutes. Equipment: chair and a fitness mat. The workout opens with Miranda sitting in the chair. She says this workout is for you to do if you are in the midst of a back pain attack and that you can do this workout several times a day. She also says in the course of the workout that it should relieve your back pain attack–as in, do this routine and you are pain-free. Uhm–no. That definitely did not happen. I did this workout when my low back was hurting. I have been in far worse back pain than this attack so I really expected this to help me. Nope. In fact, I felt worse pain during the course of this routine. Now, some of the exercises did feel good but just getting up and down from the floor was painful and then #9 and #10? HURT. She did warn that those two would probably hurt. I did them because she said if you do nothing else, you should do those two exercises. So I did them. They did not relieve my back pain. She did say to do them several times a day. Both moves are also included in the 30 minute routine (below). Since I did both routines the same day, I did do the moves twice in one day.

  1. Sitting in the chair, slouch shoulders forward, rounding the spine and move your hips around in the chair
  2. Straighten spine and continue moving hips around in the chair
  3. Cross one leg over the other in the chair, round spine over legs, tucking the tailbone and continue sifting hips side to side; raise top crossed leg higher, gripping shin with hands and bring knee in to opposite shoulder (continue shifting around while doing this)
  4. Uncross legs and bring one knees straight up into chest, grab bottom of foot and shift body around; lift and lower leg while still holding foot
  5. Stand beside chair, place one foot on chair seat, round back and shift hips around, dropping knee from side to side; drop torso over leg, one arm handing down by leg and continue moving around and wiggling your hips; changes to reaching arms forward, toward the other side of the chair then sweep arms side to side
  6. Lay on back on mat, knees bent and feet on floor, bring one knee into chest and shift/roll hips around on mat; with leg bent, pull it across body
  7. Same starting position as #6, raise one leg straight to ceiling, flex foot and move leg around. draw small circles with leg; cross leg over body, pulling it with hand; extend one arm out straight to side of body and pull straight leg across body in opposite direction (pull leg by holding leg by ankle)
  8. Same starting position as #6, pull straight leg in toward chest then bend knee and bring in toward chest
  9. Lay on belly, hands on mat beside shoulders and legs extended straight, lift and lower chest off ground
  10. Still laying on belly, fold arms under head and place forehead on hands, raise one leg straight behind you and hold for a few seconds, alternate legs; changes to raising and lowering both legs
  11. Extended child’s pose; bring hands beneath forehead and shift upper body side to side

Back Pain Prevention Workout is 30 minutes. Equipment: chair and a mat. This is the main workout and the one that Miranda recommends doing every day and even twice a day to combat back pain. I did it when suffering from back pain and it did help. I only did it once and it did not eliminate my pain but it did make it feel better. #14 below was nearly impossible for me while in pain–I added my modification to it in the break down.

  1. Rotate torso side to side, swinging arms with you; hang torso forward like a rag doll while swaying side to side until you are hinged forward as far as you can go (Miranda’s fingers are brushing the floor); sway arms in a circle while folded forward
  2. Roll up so you are standing straight and raise arms overhead, alternate reaching arms toward ceiling
  3. Rotate torso side to side again, swinging arms with you like in #1, but this time you will rotate more and swing arms higher; changes to swaying arms side to side in front of you while shifting body side to side
  4. Flow arms up and down while rounding and straightening spine
  5. Sit in chair and shift hips around in chair; rotate torso, grip edge of seat, rounding spine; place hands on front of chair seat and arch spine, pushing hands against chair
  6. Lift one knee and bring it into chest, wrap arms around leg and round spine; still pulling knee in to chest, cross foot over other knee and continue pulling it into chest and bringing opposite shoulder to knee
  7. (now you are on a mat, chair is gone) Cat/cow stretch on mat; with back still rounded, walk hands closer to knees and shift hips side to side
  8. Child’s pose; alternate reaching one arm forward while in child’s pose, alternate arms; still in child’s pose, reach arms to side; still in child’s pose, wrap arms around legs, rounding spine so you are in a “ball” and shift hips around
  9. On all 4s, round back then walk hands around toward heels keeping back rounded
  10. Lay on back, knees bent and feet on floor, with hands on one shin, pull leg into chest; cross ankle over other knee and pull legs into chest–raise and lower crossed legs in and out of figure 4/reclining pigeon; hold reclining pigeon and shift your hips side to side
  11. Still laying on back, extend leg straight to ceiling, flex foot and twist foot side to side; extend same side arm out to side of body on floor, place other hand on outside of calf and push straight leg across body
  12. Bring one knee into chest; extend leg straight and pull knee toward face then pull leg away from face while holding it in place with hands, flex foot then relax and pull leg toward face again
  13. Still laying on back, knees bent and both feet on floor, tighten abdominal muscles while pushing back into the mat; add a pelvic tilt; add upper body crunches; cross one ankle across other knee and crunch upper body up toward cross knee
  14. Lay on belly, hands on mat beside shoulders and legs extended straight, slowly lift chest off ground into cobra then shift hip side to side, slowly lower chest to mat (I could not do a cobra, I had to put my forearms on the mat and did a small spine arch that way, but I could not lift my chest up anywhere near as high as Miranda lifted hers)
  15. Still laying on belly, fold arms under head and place forehead on hands, raise one leg straight behind you and hold for a few seconds then lift it higher and hold for a few seconds then lift even higher and hold for a few seconds, alternate legs (again, just as impossible as it was in the shorter low back routine; I was able to lift my legs off the mat but not very high–Miranda is lifting her legs high)
  16. Repeat #15 but lifting both legs at same time
  17. Kneel on mat with glutes on heels and hands on mat, round back and shift hips side to side
  18. Sit on bottom, legs bent and extended in front of you with soles of feet on ground, hold onto thighs and lean torso back, rounding spine; straighten spine and arch back; grab one leg with both hands and round back, shifting side to side
  19. Still sitting on bottom, extend one leg straight in front of you, bend other knee and place foot on outside of opposite knee, wrap arm around bent leg and twist spine toward bent leg; reach back arm to ceiling then bend torso forward over knee
  20. Still sitting on bottom, extend both legs straight in front of you, feet flexed, place one hand on outside of calf of opposite leg and walk hand down toward ankle
  21. Still sitting on bottom with legs extended straight in front of you, reach both arms straight overhead; bend knees with feet on floor, wrap both arms under thigh, round back and shift hips side to side; straighten spine then arch spine; place arm against outside of opposite thigh and twist spine
  22. (get your chair again) Stand facing seat of chair, place one foot one chair seat with knee bent, hold chair arms and shift hips and leg around; place both hands on one chair arm (arm closest to leg on chair) and continue shifting hips and legs
  23. Still facing seat of chair, place one foot on chair seat, bend other knee and drop it down near floor; straighten back leg trying to place heel on ground
  24. Still facing seat of chair with one foot on chair seat, straighten leg, hinging forward over leg and pointing and flexing toe; bend knee, straighten spine and lean forward into chair, straightening back leg
  25. Stand beside chair back, one hand on chair back, reach other arm overhead and do a side bend
  26. Face chair back, both hands on chair back, round spine and shift body side to side
  27. Still facing chair back, both hands still on chair back, step feet further away with side stance, hinge forward and shift into side lunge
  28. Face chair back, both hands on one corner of chair back, round spine, pulling it away from corner that hands are holding
  29. Stand up straight and arch back, looking towards ceiling; alternate between rounding and arching spine

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