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11 Simple Stretches To Ease Lower Back Pain


11 Simple Stretches To Ease Lower Back Pain

Image Source: TB studio / Shutterstock

11 Simple Stretches To Ease Lower Back Pain

Dealing with persistent lower back pain in your 30s is a common experience for many. Simple movements like picking up something from the floor can lead to uncomfortable aches the next day.

In a 2019 study by the National Center for Health Statistics, it was found that 39 percent of adults had experienced back pain in the previous three months, with the back being the most affected area that tends to worsen with age.

However, the good news is that lumbar pain is both treatable and preventable, according to Grayson Wickham, a physical therapist and founder of Movement Vault.

Below, we delve into the potential reasons for your discomfort and discuss the best stretches to alleviate lumbar pain.

What Triggers Lower Back Pain?

Lower back pain can stem from various factors, including sprains, strains, fractures, herniated discs, sciatica, traumatic injury, osteoarthritis, scoliosis, and lumbar spinal stenosis, as stated by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.

Most commonly, a sedentary lifestyle is a major contributor to lower back pain, Wickham explains. Prolonged sitting with hips and knees bent at 90 degrees can cause the muscles to shorten and weaken over time. Such a lifestyle leads to decreased core muscle engagement and limited movement variety, which can result in poor core stability, tight hip and hamstring muscles, and an unstable spine.

Movement habits can also play a role in lower back pain. Stiff, rigid movements due to fear of injury can be detrimental, causing unnecessary tension. Learning to move the spine through various motions like flexion, extension, rotation, and side bending is crucial for maintaining spinal health.

Additionally, improper movement patterns that isolate certain segments of the spine, rather than engaging the entire structure, can put excessive stress on the lower back.

Ways to Alleviate Lower Back Pain

Improving posture and incorporating active stretching routines into your daily life are essential for relieving and preventing lower back pain. Wickham suggests starting with muscle and fascia release techniques to reduce acute pain, followed by active stretching and muscle activation exercises to address the root cause of your pain.

Ensuring dynamic spinal movement throughout the day and during your stretching routine is crucial to maintain spinal health, as per Andy Fata-Chan, a physical therapist in New York City.

Regularly incorporating movements that target different parts of the spine helps promote flexibility and mobility. Focusing on rotation, side bending, flexion, and extension can aid in minimizing discomfort and enhancing spinal function.

Working on two to four specific movements daily until they feel comfortable, and then gradually reintroducing them into your routine can help in managing and preventing lower back pain.

Top Stretches for Alleviating Lumbar Pain

Here are some effective stretches recommended by Wickham to relieve lumbar pain. Prioritize muscle and fascia release techniques followed by active stretches and muscle activation exercises to target the areas contributing to your discomfort.

Emphasize contracting the muscles being stretched and maintain control during each movement. Modify the stretches if needed to accommodate any pain or restrictions.

Listening to your body and adjusting the intensity and range of motion based on your comfort level is key to safely performing the stretches.

1. Quadratus Lumborum and Oblique Muscle Release

Follow the steps demonstrated in the image below to release tension in your quadratus lumborum and oblique muscles:

  1. Lie on your left side with a foam roller placed above your left hip.
  2. Keep your left leg extended and bend your right leg at a 90-degree angle with your right foot on the ground.
  3. Support yourself with your right hand on your hip and left elbow on the floor above your left shoulder.
  4. Gently roll from your left side towards your back for 2 minutes.
  5. Switch sides and repeat the process.
  6. Start by lying face up on the floor with a mobility ball under your left glutes, legs bent, and feet on the ground.
  7. Move your leg inward and outward while lying on the ball.
  8. To advance, sit up with your left leg crossed over the right, left ankle above the right kneecap. Roll side to side until you find a tender spot. Pause briefly before continuing the side-to-side rolling.
  9. Continue this for 2 minutes. Switch sides and repeat.

3. Active hamstring stretch

  1. Begin in a kneeling position on the floor with calves extended behind you and tops of your feet on the ground.
  2. Extend your left leg in front, heel on the ground, toes pointing up.
  3. Hinge forward at the hips to lower your chest towards your thigh, placing hands on the floor next to the left leg.
  4. When fully stretched, press your heel down to engage your hamstring muscles.
  5. Hold this contraction for 20 seconds, then release. Repeat this three times per side. Switch sides and repeat.

4. Active adductor stretch

  1. Start kneeling on the floor with calves extended behind and tops of feet on the ground.
  2. Extend your right leg to the side, heel on the ground, toes up.
  3. Hinge at the hips until back aligns with hips, placing hands on the ground in front of your chest.
  4. When fully stretched, press your right heel down to contract adductor muscles.
  5. Hold for 20 seconds, then release. Repeat three times per side. Switch sides and repeat.

5. Active hip flexor stretch

  1. Begin kneeling with calves extended behind you and tops of feet on the floor.
  2. Step left foot onto the floor in front, bending left knee to 90 degrees. Rest hands on left thigh gently.
  3. Shift weight into the front foot, feeling a stretch in the right hip flexors.
  4. After stretching, kick your right foot into the ground to contract hip flexor muscles.
  5. Hold for 20 seconds and release. Repeat this three times per side. Switch sides and repeat.

6. Prone press-up

  1. Lie face-down on the floor with legs extended behind you, elbows tucked in, and palms on the ground next to your head.
  2. Press into your palms and lift your chest, arching your back without pain. Look forward.
  3. Hold this position, contracting spinal erector muscles on both sides of the spine to increase the arch for 5 seconds. Release and repeat ten times for 5 seconds each.

7. Cat-camel hold (extension only)

  1. Begin in a tabletop position with shoulders aligned over wrists and hips over knees, looking forward.
  2. Arch your back without pain while keeping the chest lifted.
  3. Contract spinal erector muscles on each side of the spine to increase the arch for 5 seconds. Release and repeat ten times for 5 seconds each.

8. Bridge hold

  1. Lie face-up on the floor with arms extended at your sides, knees bent, and feet a few inches in front of your glutes on the ground.
  2. Engage your core and press through heels to lift hips toward the ceiling until body forms a straight line from knees to chin.
  3. Hold the position and drive feet into the ground while moving heels towards hips to contract glutes for 5 seconds.
  4. Release the contraction, lower hips slowly. Repeat this ten times for 5 seconds each.

9. 90-90 active stretch (front leg only)

  1. Start by sitting on the floor with your right leg bent at a 90-degree angle in front of you and your left leg extended to the side. Keep your back flat and hinge forward at the hips, bringing your chest towards your right leg. Place your hands on the floor next to your right foot and knee.
  2. Press your right calf into the ground to contract your hamstring muscles. Hold this position for 20 seconds and then release. Repeat three times on each side.

10. Full-range-of-motion hip activation

  1. Position yourself in a tabletop stance with your shoulders over your wrists and hips over your knees. Lift your left leg sideways while keeping your back flat and perform a large hip circle motion. Repeat in both directions.
  2. Complete 5 repetitions on each side.

11. Side bend hold

  1. Begin in a kneeling position with your calves extended behind you and your feet on the ground. Place your left foot on the floor in front of you with your arms extended overhead.
  2. Bend through your spine away from the painful side while keeping your hips and knees stable. Hold the contraction for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times.

Safety tips when doing stretches for lumbar pain

If any stretches worsen your lower back pain, stop and modify the movement to suit your needs, advises Wickham.

Experiencing muscle soreness is normal, but any increased pain, numbness, tingling, or burning during or after an exercise could indicate a need to consult with a healthcare provider within 24 hours, according to Wickham.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is stretching beneficial for lumbar pain?

Active stretches that enhance flexibility and strength through a full range of motion can alleviate lower back pain. Combining these stretches with muscle release techniques can help reduce pain effectively.

Static stretching, on the other hand, is not as effective for lower back pain relief, as it only lengthens muscles passively without improving muscle activation or joint stability, notes Wickham. Activating and stabilizing muscles are crucial for managing lower back pain.

2. When should you avoid stretching with lower back pain?

If you experience muscle weakness, numbness, tingling, or a loss of sensation in your legs, refrain from at-home stretches and seek advice from a healthcare provider, as these symptoms could indicate nerve-related issues like sciatica.

Consult a professional if you have a history of cancer, experience nighttime pain, or have a fever, which may suggest a spinal infection, as advised by the experts.

3. What movements should be avoided with lower back pain?

During the acute phase of lower back pain, twisting and side bending could aggravate symptoms. Depending on the type of lower back pain, certain movements may worsen discomfort, explains Wickham. Tailor your stretches to your specific pain pattern and avoid movements that exacerbate your condition, seeking guidance from a healthcare provider when needed.

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