PBS host Stephanie Mansour of "Step It Up With Steph" shares a routine that will help relieve aches and pain. Here she demonstrates a pose from the exercise bird of paradise with modifications.
CNN  — 

Pain can strike at any time – a stiff neck when you sit down at your work desk, a nagging shoulder pain as you reach for something out of the cupboard, a sore back when you’re trying to fall asleep. Even knee pain can hit during the first step of a jog or first round of squats in your workout. (Always check with your doctor if you feel a sharp pain or if you’ve had chronic pain for more than a few days.)

There are some exercises and stretches that can help alleviate and prevent pain, including those that strengthen the core of the body and lengthen the limbs, back and neck. Whether you can only spare a few minutes or you’ve got enough time for a 15-minute workout, for relief check out our quick routines that target neck, back and knee pain.

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If you have 5 minutes

Chin-tuck stretch

Standing or sitting, place your hands behind your head in a basket grip.

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Gently drop your chin toward your chest and hug the elbows around your face.

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Use the tension of your hands and arms to weigh your cervical spine down while maintaining a straight thoracic spine. Feel a stretch from the base of your skull down through your cervical vertebrae.

Breathing in and out through the nose, hold this for five deep breaths, and then release slowly.

Side neck pull

With your head upright, reach your right hand around your head and place it on the left side of your head. Gently pull your head so that your right ear reaches down toward your right shoulder. Feel a stretch in the left side of your neck.

To intensify this stretch, bring your left hand around your back and open up the left shoulder by pressing your left hand onto your back.

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Breathing in and out through the nose, hold this for three deep breaths, and then switch sides.

Standing leg lifts

This exercise strengthens the quadriceps, the large muscle at the front of the thigh, and stabilizes the knee joint by keeping the patella, or kneecap, in place through the movement.

Standing with your feet as wide as your hips, place your hands on your hips for balance. Then point the right foot in front of you, keeping your legs straight, and squeeze the quad.

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You should feel your kneecap being pulled up and stabilized.

Then lift the right foot off of the ground about 1 foot, and lower it down. Repeat this 10 times and then switch legs.

Standing hamstring curl

This hammer curl works the back of the legs, which helps to stabilize the back of the knee joint and also improve mobility in the front of the leg. It works the hamstring, which is the opposing muscle of the quad, engaged in the standing leg lift. Together, these two exercises improve muscular balance in the lower body and therefore improve knee strength and stability.

Start in the same position as above. Bend the right knee by using the back of the right leg to curl the foot up toward the glute.

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Place it down. Repeat 10 times, then switch legs.

READ MORE: You can do this total-body workout anywhere – no equipment needed

Half roll-down

This exercise works the transverse abdominis, the deepest ab muscle that helps support the low back, and also works with multifidus muscles, the ones that run along the spine. By strengthening the front of the body and properly engaging the back of the body, the body overall learns how to properly move with less pain.

Sitting up tall on a Pilates or yoga mat, reach your arms out in front of you as high as your shoulders. Open the feet as wide as the hips. Pull the naval in toward the spine and slowly roll down halfway back toward the ground.

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Relax the shoulders. Keep the abdominals engaged. Exhale through the mouth as you roll back, and then inhale through the nose as you bring yourself up to a seated position.

Pull the naval toward your spine even as you sit up straight. Repeat this 10 times.

If you have 10 minutes, tack on some more moves

Shoulder boxes

Standing or sitting, shrug your shoulders forward.

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Then shrug them up toward your ears.

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Next, pull them back. Finally, pull them down. You’ll be making a box with your shoulders in the shape of a square.

Perform this five times. Then reverse the box and perform five times by shrugging your shoulders backward.

Wall squats

If you step away from the wall, you’ll perform a regular squat. However, the wall acts as support to take a bit of pressure off of the knees, but still requires the knee joint to perform a functional movement. Standing up and sitting down require proper alignment of the hips, knees and ankles, and this exercise prepares the body to do this.

Stand with your feet as wide as your shoulders. Step the feet a few feet away from the wall, and lean back against the wall with your upper back. Bend the knees and lower yourself down the wall so that your upper back, middle back and lower back are on the wall.

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Then press down through the heels to come up to standing. Repeat this 10 times.

Inner thigh leg lifts

This exercise stabilizes the inner leg and strengthens the medial compartment, or the inside, of the knee joint.

Standing with your feet as wide as your hips and hands on your hips, point the right foot in front of you. Then cross the right foot over your body toward the left. Externally rotate the leg. Squeeze the quad to pull the kneecap up. Then lift the leg up about 1 foot, and lower.

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Feel an engagement in the right inner thigh and groin. Repeat this 10 times, then switch legs.

READ MORE: Relieve tight shoulders with this 5-minute routine

Marching bridge

This exercise challenges the low back and core to stabilize while the lower part of the legs are moving. Keep the hips steady as you lift each foot off the ground. You can even place your hands on your hips to ensure that they are staying stationary.

Lying on your back, bend your knees, and open your feet as wide as your hips. Relax the arms by your sides. Pull the naval in toward the spine as if you’re zipping into a tight pair of pants.

Slowly roll the hips so that you lift up your low back off the ground and then your middle back. Press down through the feet. Then lift the right foot off the ground as if you’re beginning to march.

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Place the right foot down and lift the left foot. Repeat this march 10 times on each side.

If you have 15 minutes, add these moves, too

Superwoman / Superman

This exercise engages the entire back of the body, from the upper back to the bottom of the legs. Lifting up into this position teaches the back to work together in tandem, with the shoulders lifting up the arms and the glutes, hamstrings and muscles of the back working to lift the legs.

Lie on the mat on your stomach and reach the arms forward and legs back. Open the legs as wide as the hips and the arms as wide as the shoulders. Pull the belly button in away from the ground to engage the abs.

Relax the shoulders as you reach the arms up off of the ground and squeeze the quads as you lift the legs off the ground.

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Avoid putting too much pressure on the low back by ensuring that the abdominals stay contracted. The entire muscles of the back of the body, from the calves all the way up to the upper back muscles, will be engaged.

Hold for a breath, and then release down. Repeat 10 times.


This exercise trains the back of the body to work in opposition to improve balance and spinal strength and mobility.

Similar to the superwoman or superman exercise, you’ll start by lying down on your stomach. This time, instead of reaching up both arms and legs at the same time, you’ll lift up the right arm and the left leg off the ground. Pull the abs in, and then alternate.

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Relax the right arm and left leg; lift the left arm and right leg. Alternate as if you’re swimming through water for 30 seconds.


This activity is sometimes called the quintessential back exercise because it not only requires the back to engage, but also requires proper alignment in order to maintain the exercise. It’s a whole-body exercise that trains the entire spine to fall into its proper place.

Come onto your hands and knees, opening up the hands as wide as the shoulders and the knees as wide as the hips. Pull the abs in and step the feet back to come up into a plank position. Make sure the shoulders stay over the wrists and you spread the fingers out wide.

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Keep your back flat — try not to allow the back to sag or round — and hold this for 10 seconds.

Repeat this three times and work up to repeating this 10 times.

Eagle arms

While standing or sitting, outstretch your arms. Cross your right arm over your left arm, and then bend at the elbows.

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Flex your wrists so that you can then press your palms together. Your forearms will be entangled and the shoulders will be forward.

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Feel a stretch in between the tops of the shoulder blades like a pull along the upper back. Hold for three breaths, and then release.

Repeat with the left arm crossed over the right arm.

Calf and heel raises

The lower legs and the ankles need to be strong in order to support and strengthen the knee joint. By working the front of the lower legs and the back of the lower legs, the muscles and tendons that run from the knee joint to the ankle joint are forced to engage and stabilize the movement to prevent you from falling over.

Stand with your feet as wide as your hips and hands on your hips. Shift your weight forward onto your toes and come up onto your tiptoes by working the calves.

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Then place the feet down flat, and rock the weight back into the heels. Lift the toes up off of the ground, then come back to center.

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Repeat this 10 times.

Bird of paradise with modifications

The final expression of this exercise is an advanced yoga pose. However, if you feel uncomfortable at any step along the way, don’t hesitate to hold the pose in the phase that feels best for your body.

To start, step into a Warrior II position. Your left foot will face to the left, and your right foot will be 4 to 5 feet away turned on a slight angle. Line up your left heel with the arch of your right foot. Outstretch the arms and bend the left knee over the left ankle.

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Next, place your left forearm onto your left thigh and reach the right arm up toward the ceiling. Open the chest so that the shoulders are stacked on top of each other.

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Then place the right hand along the small of your back and open up the right shoulder even more. Reach the elbow back and turn the head to the right slightly to look up toward the ceiling.

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From here, wrap the left arm underneath the left thigh. Reach the hands toward each other coming into a bind. Open the chest as much as possible and use the hands to pull on each other to facilitate the opening of the chest and shoulders.

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To move further into this pose, step the right foot forward to the center of your body, and slowly lift the left leg up off of the ground. Stand upright while maintaining the bind of the arms around the underside of the left leg.

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Lift the left leg up. Finally, extend the left leg straight as you lift the chest and stretch the shoulders.

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Wherever you find yourself holding this pose, hold for three slow breaths, and then slowly come out of the pose in the reverse of how you came into it.

You can gradually build these moves into your daily or weekly routine to help manage unwanted aches and pains. Even if you’re short on time, doing just a few of these exercises and stretches will go a long way toward bringing you relief.

Stephanie Mansour, host of “Step It Up With Steph” on PBS, is a health and wellness journalist and a consultant and weight loss coach for women.