Best Low Back Pain Stretches
When it comes to low back pain, disc bulges, disc herniations, or sciatica, there isn’t any “1 magic trick” that will solve these issues for everybody (even if we would like that to be the case). The reason why this is the case is that we are all unique individuals, with unique circumstances, situations, lifestyles, work and training demands, and many other things that make us unique.
And what this means is that, when you’re dealing with low back pain, how you respond to certain movements, exercises, stretches, and rehab drills is likely going to be different than how many other people respond. This is the reason why rehab plans have to be individualized to your injury, what you’re having trouble doing, and what your specific goals are.
That being said, we are going to spend the rest of this blog post discussing how to assess what type of stretches might be helpful for your case of low back pain, and give a breakdown on how to perform and implement these stretches into a training or daily routine.
ASSESSING YOUR BACK PAIN
Like we discussed earlier, in general you’re going to get the most results and pain relief from following a plan that is designed around your specific case. This means that you shouldn’t just be doing a bunch of random stretches that you see on social media or YouTube. You should assess which movements feel good for your back and which movements increase your back pain, and then use that to determine which stretches you should be doing.
In general, when people are dealing with low back pain they often find that they are either sensitive to flexion or a flexed position (ie sitting, bending forwards, leaning down to touch your toes etc), or are sensitive to extension or an extended position (ie standing, walking, leaning backwards etc). Often, one of those positions/movements will feel much better (or alleviate pain), while the opposite movement makes the back pain worse.
Another thing that we want to consider is if you have radiating symptoms down one or both legs. When dealing with these radiating symptoms, we want to see movement of those symptoms up OUT of the leg (ie if you were previously having symptoms down to your mid-calf, and then you do a movement or a stretch and the symptoms only go down to mid-thigh now, that is a good response). We call this movement of symptoms up towards the low back centralization, and it means you’re doing the correct movement/stretch for you.
On the other hand, we don’t want to see the symptoms move farther down the leg, as that is something called peripheralization, and means the area might be becoming more aggravated or sensitized.
To figure out which movements/positions you’re sensitive to and which movements/position might help alleviate your pain, we are going to do what’s called a repeated motions assessment. This means that we are going to take a few different movements and repeat them for 10 repetitions each, and see what type of response you get with your pain. If your pain reduces or moves closer to your back during/after the 10 repetitions, that type of movement or stretch will likely be able to reduce your back pain. If your pain increases or moves farther down the leg during/after the 10 repetitions, then you want to avoid stretching into that movement too often for now.
This can be done in either a seated or standing position. You’re simply going to round your back as much as possible and try to reach your hands to the floor. Repeat for 10 reps and see how your pain responds.
This can be done in either a prone or standing position. You’re simply going to extend your back as much as possible. Repeat for 10 reps and see how your pain responds.
Repeated Sideglide Against Wall
For this movement, you’re going to stand straight up with your forearm against a wall. You’re then going to push your hips towards the wall for 10 repetitions, switch sides, and repeat.
If the repeated flexion test made your back pain feel better or move up out of your leg, then you would want to start with the flexion-based stretches. If the repeated extension test made your low back pain feel better or move up out of your leg, then you would want to start with the extension-based stretches. If the repeated sideglide test made your back pain feel better or move up out of your leg, then you’re simply going to use that movement as the stretch!
LOW BACK STRETCHES
Now that we have done a basic assessment of how your low back pain responds to different movements, we have a good idea of which type of stretches you will likely respond best to.
If your symptoms felt better after the repeated flexion test, then these types of stretches should work best.
Double Knees To Chest – You will lie on your back with your hips and knees bent. Using your arms, you will pull your knees towards your chest as far as is comfortable. Pause for 2-3 seconds before returning to the starting position.
Seated Flexion Stretch – Sit on a bench or chair, and slowly lean forward, allowing your back to stretch as you’re doing so. Make sure to stay in a comfortable range of motion, and hold for as long as desired.
Jefferson Curl – This drill is a type of loaded stretch. You will stand with your feet about hip-to-shoulder width apart, and can do this either with just bodyweight or with holding a light dumbbell or kettlebell. Slowly bend forward, allowing your entire back to round as you reach for the floor. Hold the stretch for 3-5 seconds, and then return to the starting position.
If your symptoms felt better after the repeated extension test, then these types of stretches should work best.
Prone Press Up – Lie on your stomach with your hands just below your shoulders. Keep your hips on the surface you’re lying on as your slowly press your chest away from the surface. Stay in a comfortable range of motion, pause for 1-2 seconds at the top, and slowly return to the starting position.
Modified Wall Press Up – This is the same basic movement as the prone press up, but now in a standing position with your hands on the wall. Instead of pressing your chest away from the wall, you will keep your elbows locked and lean your stomach towards the wall. Stay in a comfortable range of motion, pause for 1-2 seconds at the top, and slowly return to the starting position.
Standing Back Bend – This one is a progression on the modified wall press up. Standing with your feet hip-to-shoulder width apart and your hands on your hips. You’re then going to lean back, allowing your low back to extend. Stay in a comfortable range of motion, pause for 1-2 seconds, and then return to the starting position.
THORACIC SPINE STRETCHES
Thoracic spine stretches and mobility drills are useful for many people dealing with low back pain because they get the spine moving in a generally non-painful (or minimally uncomfortable) manner. Below we will include a few of the most common thoracic spine stretches that we give to our patients and athletes.
Sidelying Windmill – Lie on your side with your hips and knees bent, and your arms touching each other and straight out in front of you. Lift the top arm off the bottom arm and try to touch the ground behind you. Hold for 5-10 seconds before returning to the starting position.
Quadruped Thoracic Rotation – Start on hands and knees, and then place one hand behind your head. Rotate your upper back towards that side, pausing for 2-3 seconds before returning to the starting position.
Half-Kneeling Wall Sweep – Start in a half-kneeling position with your outside leg up and inside leg down, and your arms teaching each other and the wall. With the inside arm, slowly sweep in a semi-circle shape and rotate your trunk towards the moving arm. Reverse the motion to return to the starting position.
Hip stretches and mobility drills are also useful for many people dealing with back pain for the same reason that thoracic spine stretches are! They allow you to move in a non-painful manner, and for some people, significant limitations in hip mobility may be a contributing factor to low back pain.
90/90 Hip External Rotation – Sit in a 90/90 position with your torso turned towards the knee of the front leg. Reach your chest towards your knee, feeling for a stretch in the outside portion of the hip.
Adductor Rock Back – Start in a tall kneeling position and kick one leg straight out to the side, and place your hands on the ground. Slowly rock your butt back towards the down-side heel, and pause for 5-10 seconds before returning to the starting position.
Supine 90/90 Hip Internal Rotation – Start on your back with your hips and knees flexed to 90 degrees, a foam roller or a pillow between your knees, and your feet against the wall. Slowly rotate one foot away from the other, and hold for 5-10 seconds before returning to the starting position.
If the stretches that you do help alleviate your back pain, continue to do them as you start to reincorporate the movements, activities, and lifts that were painful before. Make sure to start easy and progress slowly to reduce the risk of any flare ups of your pain.
The important thing to note is that this type of assessment and stretching protocol is generally what will work for people, but that isn’t always the case. If any of the stretches that you’re doing cause an increase in pain or symptoms, don’t continue to perform that movement.
If you are dealing with low back pain that is limiting you from running, lifting, or doing any other activities that you enjoy, click the button below to schedule a free phone consult with one of our expert providers to see if we can help you out!