An estimated 75 to 85% of Americans will experience back pain during their lives. For some, stretches may help their lower back pain.
“Back pain can be caused by various sources, but can often be attributed to body mechanics, posture and/or lack of regular physical activity,” said Michael Lubahn, Marshfield Clinic Health System physical therapist. “Pain also can be worsened by natural aging changes, such as arthritis. However, this does not mean you are stuck with it, if addressed properly.”
Treatment for lower back pain can be complex and should be adjusted to treat each individual’s source of pain. Many treatments for back pain will incorporate a combination of activity modification, such as lifting mechanics, postural training, stretching, strengthening and/or manual therapy, such as joint mobilizations, soft tissue mobilization, instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization, cupping, dry needling and therapist-controlled stretching.
Conservative therapy is often recommended prior to surgery being recommended. If you aren’t experiencing neurologic problems with your lower back pain, you may try at-home treatments for several weeks.
Stretches for lower back pain
“Stretching can be used for preventive purposes, as well as to improve pain if it is already present,” Lubahn said. “If pain is already present, it’s important to address your symptoms in order to prevent lingering pain or to prevent forming other compensatory patterns that can lead to further pain down the road.”
Stretches can improve and maintain joint and soft tissue mobility, increase blood flow and nutrient transportation, reduce muscle stiffness and soreness and facilitate neurophysiological changes, like decreasing lower back pain. Proper stretching can assist in reducing injury and improving work, life and athletic performance.
Try these stretches
Child’s pose stretch
Kneel on the floor. Have your bottom touching your heels. Reach forward with your head toward the floor until a stretch is felt in the lower back. If you are unable to get into this position on the floor, modify the stretch by sitting in a chair and reaching forward toward the floor.
Hip hinge stretch
Bend at the hips by pushing the hips back and keeping your back flat and feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Use a dowel, stick or other straight rod vertically on your back. Grasp one end with your right hand in the natural curve of your neck and the other end with your left hand near the bottom of your back.
Push your hips back while you hinge forward at the hips. Your dowel should stay touching your head, upper back and lower back. Lower your torso until it’s midway between vertical and parallel to the floor. Keep a slight bend in your knees during the downward and upward phase. Reverse the movement by contracting your glutes and pushing your hips forward and upward to return to the starting position.
Open book stretch
Lay on your side, with your knees in line with your hips, legs bent and arms out straight. Raise your upper arm to the ceiling and over your body. Follow the path of your arm with your head and allow your spine and chest to rotate with the movement. Your arms should mirror a book opening.
Sit tall and cross one leg over the other. Hug your knee close to your body with your opposite arm, then twist your body toward your knee and reach behind you.
You should feel a stretch in your hip and back. Repeat this movement on the other side. If you are unable to get into this position on the floor, sit in a chair, cross one leg over the other, and rotate your body.
Hip flexor stretch
Start in a lunge position, then lean forward. Think about keeping your ‘tail tucked’ under you to feel a stretch in the front of your hip. Repeat on the other side.
If you are unable to kneel, you can modify the stretch by standing in the same position.
Seek help if symptoms worsen
“Back pain can become recurrent, even if it doesn’t last long initially, so treatment can be beneficial at any time. I would especially encourage potential patients to seek further treatment for back pain whenever this pain begins to impact work, hobbies or daily activities,” Lubahn said. “Patients also should seek treatment if symptoms begin to radiate into their legs. A physical therapist or other medical professional can assist in deciding whether pain is caused by muscular tension, joint restrictions, neural tension or if further evaluation is needed.”
Pain does not always mean there is physical harm or damage to the body. However, pain is our body’s way of letting us know there is a potential problem that should be addressed. Physical therapists or medical professionals can help you understand what your body is trying to tell you.