If you haven’t already had a run in with lower back pain, there is a good chance it is waiting for you at some point in your future. Data indicates that 80% of us will experience lower back pain at some point in our lives. Knowing how to manage low back pain is key to helping improve recovery times, as well as affecting whether or not your acute pain could turn into chronic pain, or if you could have another flare up in the future.
Not only can low back pain have serious negative effects on your quality of life, but it can also have a negative effect on your wallet. Every year the US population spends more than $90 billion dollars on treating this condition. Many of these treatments are not clinically proven or based on scientific evidence and yet we are often so desperate for pain relief that we will try anything.
Healthcare professionals from around the world have come together to review some of the different treatments available to low back pain sufferers, looking at the scientific data behind these treatments and seeing what actually works to relieve pain and what really doesn’t work.
Benefits Of Stretching For Low Back Pain
What they found was that stretching and exercising are two of the best ways that you can help to ease low back pain. While options like Pilates and Yoga are popular ways to incorporate these activities into your day, you don’t have to join a gym, pay for Pilates, or twist yourself into a pretzel in order to get the benefits of these treatments. There are some amazing stretches that you can do for free, in the comfort of your own home.
Having strong abdominal and hip flexor muscles can help support your spine, improve your posture, and help guide your body through everyday activities. Stretching can help to improve blood flow and circulation to the muscles, as well as reducing any tightness or tension that may be felt by the muscles. Stretching can also have significant benefits when it comes to mobility and going about everyday activities.
While research has looked at various different types of exercise used to manage chronic low back pain, exercises that focus on strengthening and stabilizing key core muscles, along with exercises that help to improve flexibility are believed to be the most effective for low back pain rehabilitation. Stretching and strengthening exercises are highly effective treatments for helping people with their daily activities and for staying mobile.
The Science Behind Stretching
A study that was published in 2016 reviewed various clinical trials that had been done to examine the effects of exercise and physical activity on non-specific chronic low back pain. The researchers found that the data shows that low back pain sufferers should remain physically active as ‘long periods of inactivity will adversely affect recovery’. ‘Core stabilization’ ‘flexibility programs’ are especially beneficial to these individuals.
If you are not used to working out or doing stretching exercises it can be difficult to know where to start or what to do. What type of exercise should you be doing? How long should you be doing it for? Do you need any special equipment? What do I even do with a yoga block?
The good news is that stretching really doesn’t have to be that complicated. All you really need is yourself and maybe a towel or blanket to make lying on the floor a little more comfortable. We have put together a list of 5 of our favorite low back pain stretches that are not only simple and fun, but they feel really good after you have done them. So good, in fact, that you are bound to want to do them again and again!
Cat Cow Pose
The Cat Cow pose is one of our favorites, which is why we decided to start with it. This is one of those poses that if you relax into it, just feels so right and so satisfying. The Cat Cow pose helps to improve your posture and balance while strengthening and stretching your spine, neck, hips, and abdomen. This pose is also known for its ability to massage and stimulate the organs in the belly (think adrenal glands and kidneys), creating emotional balance and calming the mind. When you combine it with some intentional deep breathing it can be very stress-relieving, too!
To perform the Cat Cow pose you should be on your hands and knees with your spine in a neutral position - this means that it isn't arching up or caving in. Your back should look like a table, as if you could balance a tray or something like that on it.
Inhale slowly and gently raise your sitz bones/pelvis, pressing your chest forwards and letting your belly sink slowly towards the floor.
As you do this, you can lift your head, keeping your gaze directly in front of you, but making sure you don’t shrug your shoulders - keep your shoulders away from your ears.
Once you begin to feel a gentle stretch in your back and neck, start to shift into the cat pose.
With cat pose, you exhale slowly, while rounding out your spine, tucking in your tailbone, and curving your pubic bone in towards your navel. Once you have reached the end of your exhale, relax your body back into a neutral position again.
Slowly repeat this stretch as many times as you would like, feeling your body loosen up into the movement and feeling your spine become more flexible.
Now that you have warmed your spine up a bit, you are ready for a slightly more challenging move - the Bird Dog. The Bird Dog is a common core exercise that is known for its ability to improve stability and relieve low back pain. The Bird Dog engages your core muscles to help support your back muscles and your hips. It helps with improving posture and increasing range of motion. Because it requires a bit of balance and coordination it might take a bit of getting used to for this one.
Begin on all fours again but make sure you have enough space in front of you and behind you so that you can extend your arms and legs.
From your table-top position extend one arm straight out in front of you while you extend the opposite leg behind you.
Make sure that your leg is in line with your back/glutes as much as you can without straining your back too much.
Don’t let your back arch or sag - use your core to keep it stable.
Hold this position for 3-5 seconds and then return to your original table-top position.
Keep your abdominal muscles engaged when performing the movement to make sure that you don’t move your hips too much. Your hips should stay square with the floor.
Repeat this movement on the opposite side.
Try to perform 5 repetitions for each side.
We love this one because you get to do it lying down - it doesn’t even feel like you are working. The pelvic tilt is a popular exercise for low back pain because it focuses on stretching and strengthening the core muscles and it is safe for pretty much anyone, including pregnant women who also happen to be prone to low back pain.
Lie down on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
Extend your arms and have your palms facing the floor.
Your spine’s natural curve should create a small space between your back and the floor - not a big gap - maybe just small enough for a plum or your hand to squeeze into.
Take a deep breath in and then slowly exhale. As you exhale, engage your abdominal muscles (squeeze them) and tilt your tailbone towards your belly button, closing the space between your back and the floor. As you do this, you should feel a gentle stretch of your lower back.
Inhale again, returning your pelvis and spine to their original position and opening up the small gap between your back and the floor again.
Repeat this movement 5-10 times.
The Supine Twist is a great one to head into next since you are already lying on the floor. This is a great stretch for your glutes and back muscles. This movement relaxes the spine while lengthening and realigning it. It also massages the back, hips, and abdominal organs.
From your lying down position stretch your arms out in a t-shape, keeping them in line with your shoulders.
Extend your left leg out straight, while hugging your right knee into your chest.
Take a deep breath in, then slowly exhale, crossing your right knee over your waist and reaching it towards the floor on your left side.
Turn your head to the right - away from your knee and look at your right hand.
Make sure that your shoulders are still touching the floor and that you are not lifting off the floor. Just go as far as feels comfortable, feeling a slight stretch. Your knee does not have to touch the floor.
Breath in again and as you exhale, relax into the stretch feeling yourself sink a little deeper into the pose.
Hold this position for at least 10 seconds, but longer if you like. Around 30 seconds can feel really good for your back but you may have to build up to that.
Release the pose by bringing your head back to the center and straightening out your torso and legs.
Repeat on the other side.
The fifth and final pose is Child’s Pose. This is one of our favorites. It is also known as prayer stretch but basically it mimics the position that some children love to stretch out in when they are smaller. It feels so good! It helps to stretch out the lower back muscles that support your spine and the more you do this one, the better it feels! Child’s pose promotes flexibility, increases circulation and reduces feelings of tension and stress in your body.
Begin by sitting on the floor with your glutes resting on your heels.
Slowly breath out, lowering your upper body towards the floor, resting it on your thighs.
Stretch out a little further, lowering your upper body to the floor - your legs will move further apart stretching your hips a little. Everything might feel a bit tight at first but the longer you are able to stay in the position, the deeper you can probably take the stretch and the more relaxing it will feel.
Stretch your arms out in front of you with your palms facing the floor.
Gently lower your forehead to the floor, relaxing your head and neck. If you can’t reach the floor with your forehead, consider rolling up a towel or a blanket to support your head and help make the stretch feel more relaxing. A yoga block can work as well if you have one.
Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, try reaching your hands out a little further in front of you, gently sinking a little further into the stretch.
Stretching is one of the best ways that you can manage lower back pain and it has a whole lot of evidence to back its usefulness up. Taking just a few minutes each day to do these stretches either before you start your day, or to stretch your back out before bed, can make a huge difference to your mobility. Doing it twice a day is even better but we know life gets busy and it can be hard to find the time to do that.
Stretching before you undertake big tasks like spring cleaning, raking leaves or shoveling snow, can also help prevent back pain injuries and help reduce flare ups for those who may already have experienced an episode of lower back pain. It’s fun, it’s easy, and it’s free. What could be better for back pain?