Lower back stretches
Stretching, generally is a great way for the muscles of the body to relax and unwind. We spend most of the day using our muscles in all sorts of activities from the moment we wake up, to the moment we go to bed and even then, many of them don’t switch off even whilst sleeping. It’s therefore not surprising that our muscles feel a little tight and stiff every now and then. One of the main complaints I see as an osteopath is lower back symptoms, many of which come from the muscles that surround and make up the lower back and core.
Why do so many of us suffer with lower back pain?
One interesting theory is that as humans, we have evolved to walk from four legs, to two legs. This evolutionary process resulted in us being able to see higher ground and hunt and gather more efficiently but it also meant that our centre of gravity (which sits just above the pelvis in humans) is now much higher than when we were four legged animals. Walking on two legs means that we are constantly balancing our weight on two legs and our muscles, particularly those around our back and core now have to work much harder to keep us upright. It suggests that this may be why human backs and knees too are more prone to fatigue and may contribute to why so many of us seem to suffer with back pain at some point in our lives. It’s an interesting theory. Lack of exercise, the nature of our jobs, weight gain, even too much exercise to name a few, are of course other factors that can contribute to lower back pain. And all of these contributory factors can affect each and every one of us differently.
Stretching the lower back
Most of the time, the ache that we feel in the lower back comes from the surrounding muscles. As the muscles become fatigued, they shorten and that’s the ‘tight’ feeling we get. This is why stretching is so helpful, because you are counteracting that shortening by lengthening the muscles again with a stretch. I prescribe back stretches to my patients a lot and many of them find them a useful and helpful aid for managing their low back pain symptoms.
Below are the four that I most regularly prescribe. Give them a go and make sure you also follow these stretching tips to get the most out of the stretch:
Always hold the stretch for at least 20 seconds. (Aim for 30 if you can).
The best time of day to stretch is last thing before you go to bed. This is because the stretch you apply to the muscles will last much longer as you’ll be stretching out the muscles before you sleep (so you won’t be using them for the next 6-9 hours or so).
Do not stretch first thing in the morning when you wake up. This is because your muscles need to warm up a bit before you stretch them. If you stretch when you first wake up, you are more at risk of straining the muscles.
Stretching may feel uncomfortable if the muscle you are stretching is particularly tight but it should NEVER feel painful. If it starts to feel painful, ease back on the stretch to avoid straining the muscle.
Spinal twist stretch
Lay on your back and bring one knee up so that your shin is parallel to the ceiling. Keeping your upper body flat on the floor, twist the lower body by letting your knee fall to the opposite side of your body to feel a nice rotational stretch through the lower back. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Less intense: to make this stretch less intense, rather than lift one knee, bend both knees keeping both feet on the floor and let the weight of both knees fall to one side. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
More intense: to make this stretch more intense, once rotated, extend your knee to straighten your leg and hold onto the edge of your foot. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Lay on your back, bring both knees up towards your chest and hug them towards you to stretch the muscles of the lower back. The more you bring your knees towards you, the stronger the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds.
Tip: you can gently and rhythmically rock from side to side in this position to give the lower back a nice little massage during this stretch.
Sit back on your knees (feel free to place a towel or blanket under your knees to help cushion them if this is more comfortable). Widen the space between your knees whilst bringing your toes together and lean forwards with your arms outstretched above you. Sink your head and chest to the floor to feel a gentle stretch in the lower back. Hold for 30 seconds.
Tip: if keeping the arms above your head is uncomfortable for your shoulders, feel free to keep them by your side instead.
Seated spinal twist
This is a seated adaptation of the first stretch. Sit upright with both legs straight in front of you. Bend one knee keeping the foot on the floor and use your opposite arm against the bent knee to assist in rotating you round to one side. Rotate as far as you feel is comfortable for you. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
I hope you find these stretches useful. Even if you have no back pain, these stretches are a great way of keeping the back supple so give them a go and if you can, make them part of your daily routine. And if you are suffering with low back pain or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.