When your back hurts, do you ever get a strong urge to stretch it? There's a reason for that. It's called muscle guarding. Your muscles tighten up to protect your spine when they sense injury is present. Your muscles sense injury that is both catastrophic and minimal. This means your muscles guard even if you simply strain your back.
Because the muscles around your spine are so sensitive, they can actually contribute to pain in your lower back when their job is to protect it. Stretching exercises are a good way to alleviate back pain, but it's important not to overstretch as this can cause your muscles to tighten up even more.
The key is to listen to your body when you are stretching for lower back pain relief. Let's get things underway and talk about some common causes of lower back pain, how stretching can help alleviate your pain, and how often you should stretch.
Common Causes of Lower Back Pain
There are many causes of lower back pain, and if it persists, it is important to talk to your health care provider about it. Also, if you experience severe back pain that doesn't go away, numbness, and/or tingling in your legs, or if you experience bowel or bladder incontinence, you should see a doctor immediately.
Below is a list of some of the more common causes of lower back pain:
Muscle or Ligament Strain - Bending, lifting, and twisting are three movements that can be problematic for your back, especially if you do all three simultaneously. There are many ligaments and muscles in your back that can fall prey to strain, and it can be every bit as painful as something more serious.
A Herniated or Bulging Disc - Discs are fluid-filled sacks that lie in between each of your vertebrae to provide cushion and shock absorption. Over time these discs can weaken and begin to bulge and push on surrounding nerves, which causes pain. If a bulge is severe, the disc can split open, and the fluid inside leaks onto the surrounding nerves, which also causes pain.
Scoliosis - Normal curves in the spine go from front to back. With scoliosis, one or more sideways curves in the spine. Scoliosis can range from very mild to very severe and impacts two to three percent of the population. For those affected, back pain is a common symptom.
Osteoarthritis - Osteoarthritis is often the result of overuse or a previous injury to the back. Arthritis of the spine can sometimes narrow the spinal canal, causing painful pressure on the surrounding nerves and spinal cord.
Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease in which bone density and quality are diminished. Bones can become porous, making them more fragile. As a result, the spine can develop painful compression fractures.
How Stretching Helps with Back Pain
Having tight muscles in your lower back can result in muscle imbalance. For balance to occur in your core, the stomach, pelvis muscles, and back have to work together. If your back muscles tighten up, they create a pull on your low back and keep your stomach and pelvic muscles from doing their job effectively.
Prolonged tightness in your low back can cause your stomach and pelvic muscles to stretch out and become weak, creating a cycle of bad posture and pain. Performing lower back stretches regularly to keep your muscles loose allows your core muscles to work together to protect your low back.
9 Simple Stretches for Low Back Pain to Do at Home
Here is a list of simple back stretches and yoga poses that will help relieve lower back pain. Remember, stretching should not cause back pain. If you feel pain, then back off the stretch a little bit and see if that helps. If you can't perform the stretch without feeling pain, stop doing it and try again another day.
Ultimately you should work toward holding the stretch for 30 seconds, but 10 seconds is a good starting point if you are new to stretching. Do five to ten stretches at a time, depending on your tolerance.
Childs Pose Stretch
Kneel on the floor with your feet touching and your knees about hip-width apart; bring your hands down in between your knees and walk them out as far as you can go. Try to bring your stomach down in between your knees with your arms extended out over your head.
Angry Cat Stretch
Get on your hands and knees on the floor with hands shoulder-width and knees hip-width apart. Round your back up toward the ceiling as high as you can until you feel a good stretch in your low back, then come back to a neutral position.
Upward Dog Stretch
Lay on your stomach with your legs extended. Push your upper body off the floor so that you arch your back. Try to relax the muscles in your back and abdominal muscles to get a good stretch.
Get on your hands and knees, bend your right knee and bring it up toward your chest. Turn your leg so that your thigh faces the right, and the bottom of your foot is facing the left. Bring your leg down to the floor in this position. Extend the left leg behind you holding yourself up with your arms.
Double Knee to Chest Stretch
Lay on your back and bring both knees up toward your chest. Clasp your hands behind your thighs or over your shins and gently pull back on your legs.
Lower Back Rotation Stretch
Lay on your back with both knees bent. Keep your knees together, and rotate both of them down to one side. Hold for 10 seconds, then bring them back to the center. Repeat on the opposite side.
Lay on your back with your knees about should width apart and bent. Gently lift your buttocks off the floor, lifting your belly button toward the ceiling. Go as high as you can without feeling pain.
Sit on the floor with your right knee bent then cross your left leg over your right keeping your left foot flat on the floor. Grasp the outside of your knee and gently pull toward the opposite shoulder.
Lay on the floor with knees bent and feet flat. Bring one knee up toward your chest and grasp behind your thigh. Straighten your leg gently until you feel a comfortable stretch behind your leg.
Let's face it, back pain is not fun, but finding a way to manage it and be more flexible too is a big win. Give these stretches a try but remember that you are not stretching to increase your range of motion. You are stretching for pain relief. This means using gentle pulls to create stretches that feel good and soothe your pain.
If you find a stretch or yoga pose that is particularly helpful, leave us a comment to let us and our readers know what's working for you.