Lower back pain is one of the most common problems that people have. It can range from slight stiffness or soreness to a painful sting or a “shocking” feeling. Regardless of what type of back pain you are experiencing, approximately 60-80% of Americans are suffering from some sort of back pain.
Whether you have minor discomfort, or a more serious condition such as sciatica, you can improve the health of your back by increasing the strength and flexibility of the muscles that support your back – especially the ones found in your abdominal, hip, pelvic and back area. One of the best ways to do this is through stretching.
Benefits of Stretching
Stretching helps support your back in a variety of ways. In order to have a healthy back it has to be durable and malleable. How many of you have come close to pulling your back when trying to lift something heavy? In order to prevent this you have to make sure that your back is able to comfortably reach certain positions and have the strength to get out of those positions. For example, when you squat down to pick up a heavy load you want to be flexible enough to get down to that position, and when you actually pick up the heavy load you want to be strong enough to easily lift it.
Stretching can assist you with both of these components. Everybody knows that stretching makes you more flexible, and this flexibility allows you to access a greater range of motion. What many people don’t know is that this also assists in strength building. The greater range of motion you have, the more comfortable you are in certain positions, for example a squat. This allows you to access more of the different muscles in your body which then assist in lifting heavy objects, rather than putting the entire burden on your back. It also stabilizes your core, which can improve your posture and further prevent risk of injury to the lower back.
Now that you know the benefits of stretching for your lower back, here are some stretches that can help prevent back pain and sciatica.
1. Camel Pose
Muscles Stretched: Rectus Abdominus and External Obliques. Kneeling down, place your hands behind you on the bottom of your feet and push your hips up and forward. Make sure that you are not putting pressure on your lower back. This stretches the abdominal muscles which increases your core stability and can improve your posture, one of the best ways to prevent lower back issues.
2. Wide Forward Fold
Muscles Stretched: Adductors. Start off by sitting on the floor with your knees bent and your spine upright. Slowly straighten your legs and round your back as your reach for your feet with both hands. If you are unable to reach your feet then just try to lean forward as much as possible. This stretch is good for opening up the hips, which can increase mobility and prevent straining or spraining your back.
3. Frog Pose
Muscles Stretched: Adductors. Go on the floor with your hands and knees. Slowly widen your knees until you feel tension in your groin muscles. Push against the floor with your hips to open them up more.
4. Wide Side Lunge Pose
Muscles Stretched: Adductors and Hamstrings. Start off by have both your feet facing forward in a wide stance, keeping your legs as straight as possible. Use your hands to “walk” to your right foot and bend your right knee while rotating your left foot so that the toes are pointing towards the ceiling. Make sure your right foot stays straight on the floor. Repeat on the opposite side. This not only opens up the hips and allows for more mobility, but it also stretches the back of your leg, the area which your sciatic nerve runs through.
5. Butterfly Stretch
Muscles Stretched: Adductors. Siting on the floor, place the soles of your feet so that they are touching each other and straighten your back. Then press down on your knees with your hands to induce the stretch. If you want to stretch more, bring your feet closer to your body.
6. Forearm Extensor Stretch
Muscles Stretch: Forearm Extensor. Roll your shoulders backwards so that you are sticking your chest out and are not hunched over. Place your left hand outstretched with your fingers folded together and your right hand cupped over it. Then slowly press your left hand towards your body with your right hand. This will help improve your grip which will reduce the risk of injury when lifting heavy objects by allowing you to focus your spine position rather than your ability to carry the object.
In order to get the best stretch possible you should perform all of these exercises consecutively, dedicating one minute of stretching to each one. For the stretches that require you to switch sides (Wide Side Lunge Pose, Forearm Extensor Stretch) just dedicate 30 seconds to each side. Let us know how these stretches helped you prevent or reduce back pain.