Low back pain can be a debilitating fact of life for many people. According to the American Chiropractic Association, low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and the most common reason for missing work. For many, the causes of back pain are mechanical and often due to daily stresses or repetitive movements that build over time, such as sitting in an office chair all day or having poor posture.
More serious cases of low back pain–such as those caused by injured intervertebral discs or arthritis–are best treated under the guidance of a trained health practitioner. For people suffering from low back pain caused by mechanical reasons, however, stretching can provide some relief and act as a preventative measure.
Over time, the increased mobility in the spine and surrounding soft tissues can lead to real and sustained relief from low back pain.
When performing these stretches, make sure to hold each stretch for approximately 30 seconds to allow time for the muscles to become loose. Avoid stretches that hyperflex or hyperextend the back, such as touching your toes from a standing position or deep back bends, as these may cause further pain. It’s also best to perform stretches after you’ve already warmed up with light exercise.
Finally, never perform a stretch to the point of sharp or jabbing pains. Stretching should generally be pain free.
1. Cat-Cow Stretch
This is a great stretch to warm up the spine and loosen tension. Start with your hands and knees on the floor. Your knees should be under your hips and your wrists should be under your shoulders.
Slowly arch your back and lift your head and tailbone as you take a deep inhale. During the exhale, round your spine up towards the ceiling and tuck your tailbone under and your chin towards your chest.
Move back and forth between the stretching inhale and compression exhale portions of this stretch for 2-3 minutes.
2. Hamstring Stretch
This move allows you to stretch the hamstring and calf muscles without hyperflexing the back.
Sit on the floor with one foot against the wall. Bend your other knee and bring that foot up towards your buttocks. Clasp your hands behind your back and bend forward slowly from the hips. Keep your back as straight as possible. Hold for 5-20 seconds. Switch legs and repeat on the other side.
3. Single Knee Stretch
This stretch is particularly good for people suffering from spinal stenosis. Start on your back with both legs extended. Bend one knee up into your chest and clasp your hands around your shin or the back of the thigh. Your other leg should still be straight on the ground.
Pull gently towards your leg, but release as much tension as you can in the shoulders and neck. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat on the other side.
Image by Ryan Weisgerber via Flickr