Before stretching your low back...read this!
Does your low back get sore as the day goes on? You're not alone! Many patients I see feel the constant need to stretch out their backs in the morning and throughout the day. In fact, many of them have been told to do this by a friend, family member, trainer, or even physician. My next question is usually, "How well is that working for you?" Every time the answer is the same, "it's not." Time to shift the paradigm on treatment for low back pain!
1. Why is my back so tight?
First things first, let's talk about tight, or "hypertonic" muscles. It is very common to have very tight and sore muscles in the low back. However, we have to think about why those muscles are tight! Muscles tighten up or go into spasm in attempt to stabilize an area of dysfunction. So many times in low back cases, those tight stiff muscles in the back are the only thing holding us together! Do we really want to stretch or loosen up the only stability we have? Yikes!
Having a background in applied kinesiology has given me the tools to be able to see which muscles are hypertonic and which muscles are not firing well (or inhibited.) If a muscle is working too hard it is because there is a weakness elsewhere! We can receive massage, soft tissue work, chiropractic manipulations, kinesiology tape, etc. to the area all we want, but it is absolutely imperative to address the weakness and faulty firing patterns happening! Low back pain is often due to limited stability in the pelvis and core. I have seen so many times that just by performing simple activation exercises, low back pain can be decreased significantly.
2. Avoid excessive flexion of the spine
Most of us live the majority of our days in a flexed, or curved position. Hunched over computer desks, looking at phones, even working with clients. Virtually all stretches for the low back put us further into that pattern, which is not ideal. In fact, the most common mechanism to cause disc herniations is a combination of flexion and rotation in the low back, which many people perform daily to stretch! Ditch the flexion stretches and get movements in the hip and mid back (common tight areas) instead!
3. What do do instead?
In order to reduce back pain, we want to stabilize the low back and gain strength and mobility elsewhere. Two VERY common restricted areas in the body are the hips and thoracic spine (mid back). Perform these stretches and mobility drills daily to off-set the flexion dependent environment we live in!
Hip Flexor Stretch
Hold the stretch for 3-5 seconds on each side and return to a neutral kneeling stance. Only stretch as far as comfortable (no more than 6/10 on a scale of discomfort). Repeat 5-10 times per side. Raise the arm opposite the bent knee if a deeper stretch is desired.
Mobilize Thoracic Spine
Place the foam roller horizontal across the mid back. First start by "scanning" the area. Roll up and down the mid back slowly, feeling for sore or restricted areas. Once a restriction or sore spot is found, place the pelvis on the ground and perform 5 small extensions, arching the mid back around the foam roller. Make sure to keep the neck and head in a neutral position. Then return to scanning and repeat if another restricted area is found.
In addition to mobility, we also must consider stability. Having increased range of motion doesn't mean much if we can't control it via the muscular system. Perform these exercises daily to activate your core and pelvic stability, which will result in much less strain on the low back!
Lift the pelvis up off the ground, making sure to keep the low back stable (not arched!). Hold for 3-5 seconds and return to the ground Repeat 5-10 times. To up the anty add a resistance band above the knees!
Dead Bug with Exercise Ball
Place a large exercise ball between the knees and arms. Squeeze the arms and knees into the ball simultaneously for 3-5 seconds, making sure to breathe. Be mindful to keep the lower back from arching! Repeat 5-10 times.
Of course, seeking help from a medical professional is always a great first step. Did you know that research has proven and validated chiropractic care as a successful and safe treatment for low back pain? Check out this meta analysis! Regular chiropractic treatments will provide significant relief and help kick that low back pain for good. And remember, any physical pain can also stem from internal or emotional imbalances. By addressing physical, internal, and emotional health, our bodies can heal, be whole, and thrive!