Back pain is a common condition that affects most people at some point in their lives. There are different kinds of back pain, and while some might be temporary, others might require medical attention. ...Learn more
Back pain is one of the top reasons people visit a medical provider and take time off work. In fact, it is estimated that as many as 31 million Americans experience back pain of some type. While treatment for back pain varies depending on its cause and the symptoms, stretching is a versatile option that can significantly reduce pain and improve strength.
Low Back Pain Symptoms
The symptoms of low back pain depend on the cause. But low back pain is often marked by:
- Aching muscles in the lower back
- Shooting pain that extends from the lower back into the legs or feet
- Burning sensation in, or around, the lower back
- Stabbing sensation in, or around, the lower back
If you experience low back pain symptoms for longer than 72 hours, it is important to see a medical professional. A few symptoms could also indicate a more severe problem, such as loss of bladder control, which requires immediate medical care.
Common Causes of Low Back Pain
Back pain can be caused by a variety of things, including:
- Strained muscles
- Herniated or bulging disc
- Autoimmune arthritis
- Spinal stenosis
- A pinched nerve in the back
- Poor posture
- Congenital abnormalities, like scoliosis
Of course, some temporary conditions can also lead to low back pain, including pregnancy and following an injury. Some causes of lower back pain are considered acute, like an injury. Others, however, are considered chronic when the back pain lasts for 12 weeks or longer.
Many people may also notice an increase in lower back pain after walking or standing for an extended period of time. Common foot problems, such as flat feet, bunions, corns, and bone spurs, can lead to back pain. Some foot problems, or a long history of wearing the wrong shoes, can lead to foot deformities, which can impact the legs, knee, hip flexor, and lower back. Poorly fitted shoes can also put pressure directly on the back. Women who wear high heels or shoes without enough support and cushion all day may notice chronic foot and lower back pains. Shoes that are too tight can restrict blood flow, leading to both lower back and foot pains.
People who experience pain when sitting for prolonged periods may have back pain due to poor posture, which can occur from your chair or how you are sitting. Investing in a good pair of shoes with the appropriate support and cushion will often improve some lower back pains and, in some cases, will treat it if poor footwear is the cause.
Conditions Stretching Could Help
There are many common conditions that stretching could help. Stretching the lower back can relieve the pain associated with many different causes, including musculoskeletal conditions. Pulled or fatigued muscles, which are some of the most common causes of low back pain, often benefit from stretching. Stretching can help to relieve pain for some chronic conditions, like spinal stenosis or autoimmune arthritis. Of course, it is always a good idea to determine the cause of your back pain before beginning a stretching routine.
Stretching Reduces Pain and Builds Strength
So how does stretching help lower back pain? Stretching improves flexibility while also strengthens the surrounding muscles. The lower back is made up of many different parts, including the muscles, ligaments, bones, discs, and connective tissues. Each of these parts works together to allow you to move your body, whether you are twisting, turning, running, or even just sitting. Stretching releases these muscles and promotes blood flow, which is essential for healing.
Stretches that engage the core muscles can also help with lower back pain. By strengthening the core abdominal muscles, you can support other body muscles, including the lower back ones. When you use your core muscles to stand, sit, exercise, and lift things, you are also less likely to injure your other back muscles.
Great ways to strengthen your core muscles include:
- Partial crunches: Partial crunches are an excellent alternative to full-size crunches, which can put too much pressure on the back. Lie as if you were doing a crunch, but only come up partially, focusing on tightening the core muscles. Do a few pulses before dropping down and resting. Continue for eight repetitions, resting in between each one.
- Pelvic tilts: Pelvic tilts work to strengthen the lower back muscles by using your core. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Tighten your stomach muscles and lift your hips towards the ceiling. Hold this position for 10 seconds before slowly dropping back down, taking care not to injure your spine on the way down. Repeat for 8-12 repetitions.
- Cobra stretch: The cobra stretch relieves pressure on the lower back while also engaging and strengthening the core muscles. Begin lying flat on your stomach. Then, put your hands in front of you, right in front of your hips, shoulder-length apart. Then, slowly push up, stretching the arms out, and hold for 10 seconds. Continue for eight repetitions.
- Bird-dog: The bird dog activates core muscles, relieves tension, and strengthens muscles around the sacroiliac joints, which can also contribute to lower back pain. Begin on the floor on all fours. Tighten the abdomen and reach the right arm and left leg out at the same time. Hold for 10 seconds and pull them back into place. Then, switch sides then, repeating for eight repetitions.
By building strength in the lower back, you can relieve pain symptoms and prevent additional injuries from occurring.
Stretching Releases Pain in Your Spine
Stretching can also be used as an effective pain reliever. These are a few of the beststretches to fight pain:
- Cat-cow stretch: If you have ever taken a yoga class, you have probably been in a cat-cow position before. The cat-cow stretch is easy to do and can provide immediate relief for many causes of low back pain. Simply start on your hands and knees with a flat back. Then, rotate between tilting the pelvis underneath and rounding out your back, and then tilting the pelvis up, with your head tucked under. Continue for eight slow repetitions.
- Knees into the chest: This is another easy stretch that can be done in bed. Lie on your back and pull your knees into your chest. Wrap your arms around them and roll side to side.
- Rotating trunk: This can help relieve tight muscle and tension in the lower back. Lie flat on your back and bring your knees to your chest, as you did with the last stretch. Then, drop your knees either to the right or the left. If possible, you can also place your opposite arm on the opposite side, finding a stretch that is comfortable for you.
- Child’s pose: Child’s pose is often used as a resting pose in between yoga poses but also offers a great stretch to your glute and hamstring. Simply start on your hands and knees. Then, push back onto your knees, resting your butt on your feet. Keep your arms in front of you, stretched out, and hold the pose as long as it is comfortable for you.
Modifications and reducing the number of repetitions can help you find a stretching routine that works for you.
How to Modify a Stretch to Fit Any Level
While stretching is a great way to relieve lower back pain, it is crucial to listen to your body. If you experience an increase in pain while stretching, modify the move, or choose a different one that is not painful. You don’t want to add to your pain by causing an injury. Recognize what part of the stretch is causing you discomfort or chronic pain, and then modify that.
Fortunately, you can make modifications, like:
- Cat-cow stretch: If cat-cow stretch causes pain in your knees, consider putting a folded blanket or towel underneath them. If it hurts your wrists, consider using a fist.
- Knees into the chest: You can modify knees into the chest by pulling the legs up only as far as is comfortable. Avoid pushing yourself too far.
- Rotating trunk: First, try engaging your core before rotating from side to side. Strengthening these muscles first will help you protect your spine.
- Child’s pose: The child’s post is about resting. Find what works for you and makes you feel comfortable. This might include flipping your wrist a certain way or spreading your knees wider.
It can also be useful to work with a physical therapist to find stretches that work for your individual condition. It is also important that you are doing the stretch correctly. These tips can help you get the most out of your stretching exercise:
- Wear the appropriate attire: Comfortable clothing that does not restrict movement is essential when stretching. A good pair of well-fitted shoes are also a good idea to give you traction when doing standing stretches.
- Listen to your body: If a stretch causes you pain, stop doing it. Start with a gentle stretch. Also, never push a stretch too far. You can always adjust and work towards a deeper stretch later.
- Ensure you are on a flat surface: Stretching on a flat surface can provide you with the balance you need.
- Stretch frequently: While stretching once could temporarily relieve pain, you will get the most benefit from a stretching routine that is frequent.
Ultimately, stretching should never cause you more pain than you are already feeling. If it is painful, you may need to consult with your doctor or choose different physical therapy.
Finding Pain Relief
While most lower back pain causes cannot be entirely cured, there are many methods for finding pain relief, with back stretches being one of the best. Strengthening the back’s muscles and exercising can also help prevent additional back injuries. Choosing the right attire when doing these stretches, as well as in your daily life, is also just as important to consider. A good pair of shoes can reduce pain and help you implement low back pain stretches into your daily routine.