Having pain in your lower back is more common than you might think. Many people who experience this condition are often surprised to find that they have back pain. Just the simplest of movements for a stiff back, or a sudden twist when you aren’t warmed up, can have dire consequences. Low back pain can cause people to miss out on major social events as well as leading to lost work days. Incorporating some simple lower back pain stretches into your daily routine can be a game changer when it comes to maintaining lower back health and mobility and preventing lower back injuries.
Lower back problems can vary in their intensity, ranging from sudden sharp pains to more constant, dull aches. They also have an enormous range of potential causes which are often hard to definitively diagnose. Causes can include anything from poor posture to more serious underlying medical conditions. Fortunately most cases of acute low back pain will resolve themselves over a relatively short period of time, and you can often help speed up the healing process by completing some key stretches for lower back pain, specifically, and helping to relieve pain and improve your flexibility.
Does Stretching Improve Low Back Pain?
Many people who experience lower back pain are still under the impression that rest is the best thing. International guidelines recommend staying active and engaging in activities like yoga and Pilates that can help stretch out stiff and sore back muscles.
Why Should I Stretch?
Our spines are complex structures that are composed of many parts, all working together to help support the weight of your body. Muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones all play their part in supporting the body and it is important that one area is not overworked so as to prevent strains and sprains, leading to longer term health concerns.
When we engage in regular stretching exercises for our lower backs we help to ensure that these muscles and ligaments stay soft, supple and flexible. When our muscles are stiff it reduces our range of motion, limiting our movements and making us more prone to injuries and increased feelings of pain. Stretching can also help to improve our circulation which helps improve blood flow to our muscles and carries important nutrients to them, helping them stay in top condition.
Can Daily Stretches Help With Back Pain?
For those struggling with lower back pain it can be overwhelming to know what sort of stretches (or exercises) will be the most beneficial. It seems as if everyone has an opinion on what works best. There is also a staggering number of products to be found on the internet - all promising instant relief from pain. So where do you start and what do you pick?
Sticking to the international guidelines is a great place to begin. Healthcare professionals from around the world have studied the data and the science behind many of the treatments that are available to low back pain sufferers, and have read through hundreds, if not thousands, of clinical trials.
While there are sometimes separate guidelines for different countries and continents, when you read through the literature they actually all often agree on many of the same treatments for lower back pain. Ultimately whatever you pick may depend on what the underlying cause of your pain is, as well as your lifestyle and personal preferences.
A good exercise program can help you to build strong, flexible muscles that can support your body properly and help keep you moving. If you are currently experiencing lower back pain, the goal of your particular program might be to help you return to your regular activity levels as quickly as possible and help to relieve any pain you might be experiencing.
It is always a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program, as they might have some things for you to consider, depending on your specific medical history. A good program should include measurable goals for you to restore functionality and to reduce your pain. Using a tool like the Oswestry Pain Scale can help you track your progress. This is key to recovery because sometimes we forget how bad the pain was, and other times we don’t recognize how much our flexibility and functionality has improved. Read more about the Oswestry Disability Index Pain scale on our website.
A robust program for helping to improve lower back flexibility can help speed up the healing process, as well as assist in preventing future flare-ups. Simple stretches in the morning or the evening can be an important addition to your lower back health routine. These stretches should ideally target your back, abdominal, and buttock/gluteal muscles. Strong abdominal muscles help maintain good posture and prevent unnecessary wear and tear on the bones and ligaments in your back. Strong glutes (gluteal muscles) can also help to support your back and are key for support in standing, sitting and walking while strong upper leg muscles have their part to play in supporting your back and helping to create good posture.
What Exercises Help Low Back Pain?
When it comes to the different types of exercises that can help to improve pain in the lower back and increase flexibility, activities such as Pilates and yoga are two of the most commonly recommended. There is growing scientific evidence to support the benefits of these activities for treating pain and improving flexibility. One study, conducted in 2020, suggested that engaging in a tailored yoga program could help relieve back and neck pain and improve quality of life for those participating in the program.
A 2016 review went on to support these findings by suggesting that yoga is generally found to be a safe and effective treatment for chronic low back pain. A different review, also published in 2016, noted that exercise programs that incorporate flexibility are highly beneficial in relieving low back pain. This study concluded that exercise programs involving muscular strength, flexibility or aerobic fitness are “beneficial for NSCLBP but not acute low back pain.” NSCLBP refers to non-specific chronic low back pain.
Looking at Pilates, a study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science (Oct 2016) found that “Patients with chronic low back pain showed statistically significant improvement in pain relief and functional ability compared to patients who only performed usual or routine health care.”. Researchers concluded that “In patients with chronic low back pain, Pilates showed significant improvement in pain relief and functional enhancement. “
Further studies have gone on to support this by finding that “ In numerous studies including reviews, a positive effect of Pilates such as reducing pain and improving functional outcomes was observed at short term (up to 3 months).” They even go on to recommend that sessions be conducted and “supervised by qualified instructors should last about 60 min, with a frequency of two to three times a week.”
Good Stretches For Low Back Pain
Unfortunately not everyone is comfortable with, or has the ability to participate in, these activities, but on a positive note, you don’t have to do yoga or Pilates to experience the benefits of stretching for low back pain. There are some simple exercises that you can do in the comfort of your own home that can make a major difference in your flexibility and pain levels.
In order to get the maximum benefit from your stretching routine, it is essential that your technique and execution are as accurate as possible. Many people are hesitant to do these exercises on their own as they are often scared of making their injuries worse. Digital Physical therapy programs are a great way of performing specific physical therapy exercises while under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist. The physical therapist can assess your form and ensure that you are performing the exercises safely and correctly.
If you don’t have access to those types of programs, here are some simple stretching tips to keep in mind as you go about your routine:
1. Stretch regularly but gently, without bouncing, as that can cause tissue injury.
2. Stretch slowly and only go to the point where you feel mild tension. Don’t push it to where you are feeling pain in the stretch.
3. Start at your neck and work your way down your body - this gives other muscles more time to warm up.
4. Hold each stretch for around 20-30 seconds.
5. If you aren't used to stretching, start by holding a stretch for a short time and gradually build up to longer stretches over time.
6. Don’t hold your breath. Deep breathing is key to really sink into a stretch and engage your muscles.
7. Stretch for the same amount of time for each part of your body.
8. Alternate sides and muscle groups when you stretch.