When your back is hurting, it’s common practice to stretch it. That usually means bending forward at the hips and allowing the low back muscles to stretch a bit. This can also help to stretch out the hamstrings, calves, and with the right arm position, the shoulders and upper back as well. But what if this sort of stretching is actually doing more harm than good?
Many people who experience low back pain don’t necessarily need to stretch it. Sometimes the muscles in the lower back are already too stretched and need to be strengthened instead. While doing that traditional low back stretch probably isn’t going to hurt you, it may actually be the opposite of what you need to help your low back pain. If you notice that you round your back, especially when sitting for long periods, many of the low back muscles are being put into a stretched position that entire time, effectively making them weak. Along with those weak muscles, come weak ligaments and fascia within the spine (the connective tissue that holds your vertebrae together).
When all of these components are weakened due to this chronic rounding of the low back, it puts abnormal pressure on the discs of the lumbar spine. This, in turn, can lead to bulging and herniated discs which put pressure on nerves, causing significant pain.
While the traditional low back stretch isn’t singularly going to cause a low back or disc problem, it can exacerbate an existing problem. So if you’re experiencing low back pain, why not try doing the opposite action. Instead, stretch your abs and shorten the muscles of your low back.
This can mean something as simple as lying on your stomach and propping yourself up on your elbows while watching TV in the evenings, or starting to implement regular back exercises into your routine.
Here’s 4 simple ways to strengthen your back and reduce your back pain.
*if you experience any sharp pain during these, stop immediately*
Standing Back Stretch: Stand with your feet together and reach your arms overhead until your palms touch. Reach your arms back as far as you can while arching your low back.
Press Ups / Back Extensions: Lie flat on your stomach with your hands directly under your shoulders. Push your chest off the floor and look forward or up, keeping your hips flat on the floor. Try to use as little arm strength as possible and instead, focus on allowing your low back to do the work. Hold for 15-30 seconds, lower your chest, and repeat 10 times.
Plank: Lie flat on your stomach with your hands directly under your shoulders. Push your entire body off the ground until you’re in a push-up position. Tighten your abs and old this steady for 20-30 seconds. Be sure your head, back, hips, and legs are all in a straight line. Lower your entire body to the ground and repeat 5 times.
Alternating Bird Dog Pose: Start with both hands and both knees on the ground. Reach and raise your right arm and left leg up until both are in a straight line with your body. Hold for 5-10 seconds and return to the starting position. Reach and raise your left arm and right leg up until both are in a straight line with your body. Hold for 5-10 seconds and return to your starting position. Repeat on both sides 10 times.