We often get asked the question, how do back stretchers work? While some people can afford a personal physical therapist to visit their home daily to help alleviate back pain with stretching and therapeutic traction, the vast majority of us have to figure out other ways to rehabilitate and treat spine pain. Whether back pain is caused by an injury or degenerative condition such as osteoporosis, a simple device called a back stretcher may be able to help you stretch out the back to relieve some of the pain and compression in the spine. Likewise, you can try some back stretching yoga poses that we’ll discuss later in the post.
How do back stretchers work?
Back stretchers are devices that can range from a simple arched lumbar stretcher made of wood or plastic to an elaborate back stretcher chair or machine. Both focus on the action of passive stretching. Muscles that are fully relaxed will stretch more, and a back stretcher is designed with therapeutic comfort in mind.
Once the back muscles are relaxed, the back stretcher can begin its job of elongating the spine vertically, creating space between the vertebrae. This counteracts the natural effects of gravity, which pulls the spine down as we age. This is the simplest answer to “how do back stretchers work?”
Back stretchers can also help relieve some other types of back pain, such as:
The lengthening and stretching of the spine can help relieve compression on the sciatic nerve, thus offering relief from the shooting pain of sciatica. Creating space between the vertebrae also helps relieve the pain of bulging discs and may help avoid total herniation of the disc. In general, if your spine pain is caused by compression, a back stretcher can help create space and freedom.
Finding a back stretcher that works for you
There are many back stretchers on the market, so many that it can be difficult to find one that will be effective for you.
The simplest back stretcher may be a bolster placed along the spine. Laying back on the bolster and allowing your body to relax over the sides can help open the back. This type of soft bolster may be good for patients whose backs are exceptionally sore, as it is padded with no hard parts. It may also work for patients who are overweight, as the bolster is wider but adaptable to any shape. This video from Yoga Emporium shows you how to use one correctly.
As with all therapeutic treatments, it is important to discuss these back stretchers with your pain doctor. He or she may have some suggestions or may have one for you to “try before you buy.” They may also discourage use of a back stretcher if using one could exacerbate or worsen your specific pain condition. For this reason alone, it’s important to talk to your doctor. Regina, a long-time sciatica patient at Sciatica Pain Relief at Home, talks about these risks, as well as the benefits she’s seen from using a back stretcher.
8 back stretchers you can buy
The Bacrac was designed by an osteopath who was looking for a way to ensure that his patients got the benefits of back exercises. He realized that patients were not following through at home (a common issue with all types of health conditions) and designed a back stretcher that allowed patients to get the same results in as little as five minutes a day. This device is adjustable for smaller-framed patients, and they recommend that you utilize it as often as possible. The Bacrac is especially useful as a lower back stretcher.
2. The ARC
This small piece of plastic works either sitting up or lying down. It can be used to counteract the hunched-forward posture so common in many occupations. The small footprint of the ARC make it easy for travel. Place the ARC between your shoulder blades when seated, or tuck it behind your neck when lying down to release and relax your cervical vertebra.
3. Sae Arc
The Sae Arc is similar to the Arc, but they provide more types of back stretchers, with all products made from wood. Their products are based on centuries-old back stretching techniques used by acupuncturists and yogis. You’ll find both back stretchers and acu-pressure devices on this website.
As you can see from the list, there are many options when it comes to choosing a back stretcher. In these cases, reading the reviews carefully, talking to your doctor, and looking at measurements of the actual device may be the best way to choose which one may work best for you. Here’s a few of our favorites.
This simple back stretcher effortlessly helps elongate the muscles and joints in your back. It’s a top-seller on Amazon for a reason–it’s cheap and easy to use. HollywoodFrodo gives a great explanation of how to use this one in his YouTube video.
The ChiSoft back stretcher promises chronic back pain and posture correction with the daily, sustained use of its back stretcher. It can also help reduce tension and increase flexibility, when used correctly. It was also recommended by the television personality, Dr. Oz. The website NeckTraction goes into more detail about this show, and the pros and cons for using this back stretcher.
Many Amazon customers love that this back stretcher is adjustable and can help reduce back tension and improve flexibility in ten minutes a day. Many find that it works for both lower back pain and upper back pain.
This device helps you to maintain all the good work of the back stretchers above. It is also one of the most popular Kickstarters ever, raising nearly $1.2 million. Worn just 15 minutes a day, the BetterBack promises ergonomic support without the fancy (and expensive) chair. Their video explains the benefits of this back stretcher here.
8. Inversion tables
Other ways to decompress the vertebrae and offer temporary relief of spine pain is through the use of inversion tables. The folks at LiveStrong compared more basic back stretchers with inversion tables and had this to say.
“The inversion table can cost quite a bit more that a back stretcher, but you also get more bang for your buck. Inversion tables use gravity and your body weight to create traction that’s adjustable. You start by hooking your feet in at the bottom of the table, before laying back and inverting — or hanging upside down — to any degree you want. If you want a small stretch, you can adjust the table to a small incline. If you’re looking for the maximum stretch, you can adjust to a full upside-down position.”
There are few studies that prove the long-term effectiveness of inversion for back pain, but research from Disability and Rehabilitation did note that it could reduce the need for surgery. However, some patients do report relief in the short term. This may allow them to resume activity to strengthen the back or to seek other more long-term solutions. Because the pressure on the head is intense, those with glaucoma, high blood pressure, and heart disease should not use inversion tables for back pain. Always talk to your doctor before attempting to use these or any similar devices.
Yoga poses for stretching your back
Another way to get therapeutic benefits of inversion and back stretching for free and with less potential harm for patients with high blood pressure, glaucoma, and heart disease is practicing a supported legs-up-the-wall yoga posture.
- Place a bolster lengthwise along the baseboard of a wall.
- Sit on the bolster with your left hip touching the wall.
- Swing your legs up the wall as you turn your body so that your bottom is touching the wall and your legs are straight up, resting on the wall. The bolster can be anywhere that is comfortable, from just under your sacrum to the lumbar region of the back (for more stretching in that area)
- Lay all the way back with your arms out in a T.
You can rest in this posture for as long as you like. Add a lavender-scented eye pillow for deep relaxation, or turn on yoga nidra or a guided meditation. Roll to one side to come out of the posture.
If you are more active and have some experience, the yoga pose downward facing dog is another more vigorous way to lengthen and stretch your vertebrae. This one can also help loosen out the neck muscles and hamstrings when done properly. If your hamstrings are tight, you could also try dolphin pose or the simple classic child’s pose to find some back tension relief.
Have you used a back stretcher for back pain? How do back stretchers work for you and were they effective?
Image by Dave Rosenblum via Flickr