Author, James  Evans, demonstrating the use of a "PAR COURSE" station. 

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A Healthy Smile is More than Just Cosmetic

Exercise to Prevent Falling

Overmedication of Older Adults

PAR COURSE EXERCISE...Outdoor Exercise For Everyone

"Thingamajigs and Whatchumacallits"




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Stretching to Relieve Lower Back Pain

James M. Evans

DEAR JIM: I retired from the construction business several years ago but continue to suffer from a chronic lower back problem as I grow older – probably from all the heavy lifting I did over the years. I’m not as active now, so it seems to bother me more often now than it used to, and the pain can be excruciating. Surgery is not an option at my age (82), so my doctor has prescribed muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories that seem to help temporarily. However, the pills always leave me groggy and “out of it” for a few days. Since I am in the Autumn of my years, every day is important to me, and I don’t want to waste any of them as a zombie. Can you suggest any alternatives?

DEAR ZOMBIE: According to the National Institutes of Health, 70-85% of Americans suffer from back pain at some time in their lives. I have a chronic back problem myself from an old wrestling injury almost 40 years ago, so I can relate to your pain and frustration. Because of the nature of my particular back problem, surgery has also been precluded as an option for me. And, like you, I have had to resort to occasional prescription muscle relaxants (Percodan) – particularly if I have been on crutches for several weeks and the pain isn’t going away. And, yes, they can make you sleepy.

I’m sure your doctor has considered every medical option in treating your back problem, so let’s try something different – stretching. You see, we sit or stand most of the day causing a constant compression of the spine and making us more susceptible to lower back problems.

I suggest that you begin a simple stretching program at least twice a day – when you first get up in the morning and before you go to bed at night. You can perform the stretches in the comfort of your own bed. When you first wake up in the morning and you are lying on your back enjoying the beginning of another day, bend your right leg (keeping your left leg flat on the bed) and raise it up slowly until you can grasp the back of your thigh with both hands. Now, while continuing to hold the back of your leg, extend your leg until it is perfectly straight, locking your knee and flexing your thigh muscles at the same time. You will feel it stretch all along the back of your leg (hamstring). Repeat this movement of bending and straightening your leg about 10-15 times. If you are so stiff that you cannot fully extend your leg or if it is too painful, lower it slightly toward the bed to reduce the angle of the stretch and try again until you can extend it all the way. Over a period of time, as you become more flexible, you can gradually draw your knee closer to your body to perform the exercise. When you have completed your repetitions on the right leg, lower it back to the bed and repeat the same movement for 10-15 repetitions on your left leg.

At first, one leg may be tighter than the other, and the first few repetitions may be more difficult until your hamstrings loosen up. Each repetition should be performed slowly and deliberately without jerking or forcing your leg to stretch. The effect of this simple stretching movement will to decompress the spine and reduce the tightness in the lower back area. While I still suffer from occasional lower back pain, both the incidence and the severity of the pain has been greatly reduced by performing this stretching movement on a regular basis. Try it for a couple of months and let me know how it worked for you.

Jim Evans is a 38-year veteran of the health and fitness industry and a nationally recognized consultant on fitness for seniors. He is also host of the popular radio talk show “Forever Young” on San Diego’s KCBQ 1170 AM ( on Saturdays at 10:00 A.M. (PST).

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