Stretching of the joints, muscles, and nerves are very important to ensure that there are no imbalances throughout the musculoskeletal system. Decreased flexibility in any of these areas may lead to lower back pain. Not all of these stretches may be appropriate for everyone. A stretch should not induce painful symptoms. Rather, a stretch should feel relieving to the lower back and may even help to reduce any symptoms. Our five top stretches to minimize back pain:
LUMBAR EXTENSION STRETCHES
Generally these are good for individuals who may have a disc herniation. They should be performed with caution for anyone who has spinal stenosis or any known fractures in their vertebrae.
Prone Press Up: Begin by lying on your stomach with your elbows bent underneath you and palms flat on the surface. Keeping your hips and pelvis in contact with the surface, lift your upper torso off the mat with your arms, keeping your back muscles relaxed. Only go as high as you are comfortable. Perform 10 repetitions holding each one for 10 seconds each, working your way to 30 seconds.
LUMBAR FLEXION STRETCHES
Generally, the flexion based stretches are good for those with spinal stenosis or tightness through the lower lumbar musculature.
Single Knee to Chest: Begin by lying on your back with both knees bent. Bring one knee up towards your chest. Perform 2-3 repetitions, holding each one for 15-30 seconds. You may feel a stretch along the lower back or buttocks area. You may also perform this with both legs up towards your chest if it is comfortable.
Prayer Stretch or Child’s Pose: This stretch is for the lower back muscles along the spine and is a very common yoga pose. On your hands and knees, sit back so your buttocks is resting on your heels. Reach your hands forward to lengthen your spine and feel a stretch in your middle back. You can reach your hands to either side to focus the stretch on the opposite side of your spine. Hold for 10-30 seconds and perform 2-3 repetitions.
Angry Cat Stretch: This stretch can incorporate both an extension and a flexion component. You may perform either way or just one way if that is more comfortable for you. On your hands and knees, let your belly sag towards the table to increase extension through your spine (lumbar extension picture). To increase flexion through your spine, arch your back upwards, bringing your spine away from the table (lumbar flexion picture). You may hold each position for 5-20 seconds and repeat several times.
Just as you can stretch a muscle, you can stretch a nerve. Nerve stretches are very important to perform if you have any radiating pain from your lower back into your buttocks or legs. Nerve stretches are also very important to perform after lumbar surgery to ensure that there is no scar tissue adhering the nerve to any internal structures.
Sciatic Nerve Stretch: This stretch should be performed if the majority of the radiating pain into the legs is felt in the buttocks, back of the leg, and/or through the calf and foot. This follows the pathway of the sciatic nerve. By stretching the nerve, it can help to desensitize it so that it will not cause as much pain. Perform this stretch by lying on your back with your hand behind one knee, preferable the leg with the sciatic pain. Straighten your knee then alternate flexing your ankle back and forth. Only hold your ankle in each position for a few seconds. Perform 10 repetitions on each side.
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As with beginning any new exercise, start off slowly with a very gentle stretch. Stop if you have any increase in lower back pain or sciatic pain down your leg. If unsure whether you should perform these stretches, consult your doctor or physical therapist.
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