Updated: May 28, 2021
As the most common orthopedic pain complaint, at any one point in time, 1 in 10 adults in the USA are experiencing low back pain in some fashion. The fancy name in the scientific world for this is "point prevalence."
Without question, low back pain can be annoying at a minimum, to do downright debilitating at its finest moments. No wonder the two things those experiencing low back pain want most from their healthcare provider is a specific diagnosis and an image (e.g. x-ray, MRI, etc...) to see what is going on.
Given you are a few paragraphs into this article, perhaps you are looking to find ways to avoid low back pain, but more likely there is a good chance you yourself are dealing with some sort of low back pain, whether it started just today, or has been nagging you for years. In either case, I have great news for you: Our bodies are incredibly resilient and almost always can improve!!
As a biased disclaimer, I believe seeking the guidance and advice of a physical therapist, chiropractor, or other movement-centric healthcare provider is ideal if you have been dealing with back pain for more than 1-2 weeks. At a minimum to screen for any "bigger/scarier" red-flag issues that may be going on, but more-so as a way to determine a treatment plan that best suits your situation.
Nevertheless, I want to share with you a list of 5 of my favorite stretches I share with my members, that you can try out in your home or at your gym to help address your low back pain.
1) Lumbar Rotation Stretch
This first stretch gets right to the point. Utilize your breathing on this one, taking smooth and rhythmic deep inhales and exhales. Nothing fancy about this one, but truly an excellent way to get right to the meat and potatoes of your situation.
Hold stretch for 10-15 deep breaths on each side
2) Figure 4 Stretch
With this stretch, you should be feeling a stretch, or pull, throughout the BACK and SIDE of your hip, butt, low back area. Occasionally, people will experience a sharper pain in the front of their hip. This may be a sign of hip impingement, in which case, you should hold off with doing this stretch. If you want to progress this, scroll back up to the top and take a look at the image for a "standing forward fold figure 4." Great for balance as well!
10-15 reps each leg
(Pull knee towards opposite shoulder as you breath out. Release back as you breath in)
3) Happy Baby
With a name like that, how can't you want to do this one... If you are Yogi, you most certainly know what this one is. The Happy Baby pose is an excellent stretch as it provides a stretch for not only your low back, but also your glutes, adductors, hamstrings (if you straighten your legs), and even your lats. Feel free to either hang out in one position or rock back and forth for a nice light massage on your low back.
Hold in stretch for 1-2 minutes
4) Hamstring Stretch with Sciatic Nerve Flossing
Our nervous system, which includes not only our brain, but our spinal cord, nerve roots, and individual peripheral nerves, is a continuous system from our head to our toes. Probably sounds weird, but I like to think of the our nervous system like one big spider web. If you pull on one end of the spider web, the entire web moves to some degree as well. A "healthy" nervous system is one where the nerves are able to move, or mobilize, appropriately and functionally as we move our bodies throughout the day. With this stretch, not only are we creating a stretch for our hamstrings, but we also are adding a "nerve flossing" component with the motion of our foot. Notice the difference in stretch in your hamstring (even possibly your glutes and back) as you point your toes to the ceiling vs. when you pull the toes towards your shin. When you pull your toes towards your shin, you are tensioning your sciatic nerve, and will most likely feel a much larger stretch compared to when the toes are pointing up to the ceiling. Best part about this exercise; you can now tell your dentist you are flossing daily... (sorry for the poor PT joke!)
30 reps each leg
(1 rep = pointing toes up, then pulling back down)
5) Twisted Hip Flexor Stretch
Low back pain is often times the "symptom" of a mobility/flexibility issue of a joint above or below the low back itself. Keeping it fashion with that logic, addressing your hip flexors and mid back (thoracic spine) is almost always critical when addressing low back pain. In good 'ol American multitasking fashion, you get to kill two birds with one stone with this gem of a stretch.
Hold for 1-2 minutes each side
Well, there you have it. 5 of my favorite stretches for lower back pain. Of course there is a never ending list of other options, but give one, all, or any combination of these a try and see if you are able to get some relief. As always, if any of these stretches make your pain worse, I suggest you listen to your body and hold off. That may also be an ideal time to reach out to us at Thrive HQ (firstname.lastname@example.org) or to your healthcare professional who is versed in musculoskeletal diagnosis and treatment of low back pain.
Also, as a KEY note, stretching is usually the STARTING place when dealing with low back pain; however, it is only the foundation. Keep an eye out for a future post on 5 strengthening exercises for addressing lower back pain.