7 Pain-Fighting Exercises Recommended by Doctors
The person you most want to talk to is a physical therapist: They improve bodies for a living. They know an important secret: Strength training. Research suggests that not only is it the best way to knock out pain, but like a magic pill it can also prevent pain in the first place.
"People often only think of exercise as a way of building muscle, until they get hurt," says Alonzo Wilson, founder of fitness studio Tone House New York and a former pro athlete. "Once you go to physical therapy, you find out that exercise is also a way to prevent and recover from injury."
You'll need a chair, small towel, heavy household object (such as a bag of flour or a hefty book), and a yoga mat to do these trainer-approved pain-pill moves
1. Towel CurlsFeet (Works: plantar flexors) 1 of 8
Sit on a chair with bare feet flat on the ground and a small towel in front of your feet. Using your toes, pinch the towel and pull it toward you, moving it just a few inches.
Release the towel and relax your foot. You can make this move tougher by putting a weight on the edge of the towel. Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps with each foot.
2. Neck RollsNeck (Works: cervical spine, trapezius) 2 of 8
Stand with good posture and relaxed shoulders. Slowly tilt your head to the left, then roll it forward until you're looking down in front of you.
Continue to rotate your head around until you arrive back at starting position. That's one rep. (You can increase resistance by placing your hands lightly on the back of your head.) Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
3. Chair SquatsKnees (Works: quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, obliques, abdominal muscles) 3 of 8
Chair squats help prevent and even ease knee pain by strengthening the leg muscles around the knees.
"If those muscles are weak, your knees will be unstable," says Krista Stryker, a San Francisco-based personal trainer and creator of the 12 Minute Athlete HIIT program and app.
Stand in front of a chair with your feet about hip-width apart. Bend at the knees and slowly lower your body until you're sitting on the front part of the chair; at the same time, bend your arms and bringing your fists to your chest.
Keeping your weight on your heels, stand back up. That's one rep. (To increase the difficulty, use a lower chair or increase your speed.) Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
4. Hip BridgesHips (Works: hips, glutes and abs) 4 of 8
This move comes courtesy of Hollywood celebrity trainer Teddy Bass. To address imbalances in your strength, he says, you need to either strengthen weak muscles or stretch tight muscles—and this move does both.
Lie on your back with you feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Flatten your lower back, then exhale and raise your hips toward the ceiling with the help of your abs.
Hold for 2-3 seconds, squeezing through your glutes, then inhale and lower your hips back to the floor. (You can increase the challenge by lifting one leg while in the raised position.) Do 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
5. Shoulder PressesFor Shoulders (Works: deltoids, triceps, abdominal muscles) 5 of 8
When combined with stability exercises like planks, shoulder presses are one of the best ways to protect your shoulders, says Stryker. Doing the presses standing rather than sitting forces you to recruit your abdominal muscles as well, she says.
Stand with good posture, your feet about hip-width apart, and holding any sort of heavy household object—a big book, a bag of flour, a weighted backpack—at your chest. The more unstable the weight is, the more it will work your muscles. (You can also use a long resistance band by stepping on the center and holding the ends at your chest.)
Tighten your core and keep your back straight as you press your arms straight above your head until your elbows are almost locked, lifting your shoulders up as far as possible at the top of the movement. Hold for 1 to 2 seconds, then slowly lower the object back down. Do 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps.
6. Lying Upper Back SqueezeUpper Back (Works: trapezius, rhomboids, erector spinae) 6 of 8
This simple movement can ease upper back pain and prevent injury by strengthening smaller muscles in the upper back and shoulder, says Stryker. We don't typically use these muscles; doing this exercise a few times a week will improve your posture as well.
Lie on your stomach, raise your chest and shoulders off the floor, and place your arms at your sides, parallel to the floor. With your palms up, bring your hands together behind your back until your thumbs touch (or almost touch).
Squeeze your shoulder blades together as if you were trying to pinch a tennis ball between them. Return to the start position; that's one. Do 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps.
7. Cow/Cat PoseLower Back (Works: lower spine, hips, back, and core) 7 of 8
Start on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees under your hips. As you inhale, drop your belly toward the floor, lift your rear and chest upward, and raise your head and gaze forward.
As you exhale, round your spine upward like a stretching cat while you let your head hang toward the floor; that's one rep. Do 8 to 10 reps.