3 Low Back Stretches for Better Flexibility and Injury Prevention
Updated: Jul 12, 2019
There are a lot of good stretches to help with low back pain, low back injury prevention and injury recovery. When it comes to low back pain, it is very important to know what is causing your pain and be aware of a diagnosis you may have gotten from a sports medicine doctor. This information will help you determine which stretches are appropriate. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to stretching for low back injuries because there are so many different conditions, causes and contributing factors.
After these 3 videos is an overview of stretching. How oftne should you stretch? How long should you hold it for? Should stretching be painful? Ss it ok to bounce a stretch or should you stay completely still? There's a lot of conflicting information out there so the goal here is to try to simplify everything so that stretching can be effective, safe and perhaps even fun!
3 Stretches for the Low Back:
These 3 stretches can be very helpful with low back pain and increasing flexibility. They are are my three favorite stretches for the low back. Just be sure to read the 'caution' and 'proper form' sections for each to ensure they are appropriate and safe for you.
Hip Flexor / "Anti-sitting" Stretch
Americans currently spend on average 8 hours a day sitting, whether it is at a desk for work, driving, eating dinner, watching television or going to the theatre. As a result of this modern trend, the hip flexor muscles may be in a chronically shortened position and therefore lose their elasticity and flexibility.
As a result of this, the pelvis gets pulled/rotated forward and the lumbar spine can get pulled into excessive extensive and become compressed. This can contribute to and worsen low back pain.
To help undo and reverse this, try the following stretch:
This stretch targets the hip flexor muscles which are chronically short in many people due to excessive sitting. Lengthening the hip flexors can relieve compressive forces on the low back and enable the glute muscles to function better. The results can be less low back pain, improvement in hip and pelvis alignment, stronger abdominal muscles and enhanced sports performance.
It is essential to remember that you don't need to shift your body forward very much because the hip joint has limited amounts of extension. This means that if you go too far you are probably just compressing the lumbar spine and putting excessive strain on the hip joint and ligaments.
Lean forward very slowly and carefully.
Squeeze your glute muscle lightly to help the hip flexors relax.
You can try reaching your arm in the air to increase the stretch.
If needed hold onto something to help your body stay relaxed.
Lat / QL Stretch
This stretch focusses on the latissimus dorsi and quadratus lumborum (QL) muscles. The "Lat" is a long, strong and important muscle that goes from the low back all the way up to the front of the shoulder. Shortness in this muscle can increase hyperextension in the low back as well as internal rotation of the shoulder joint. The QL is a short and very strong muscle in the low back that attaches to the top of the pelvis and the 12th (lowest) rib. Shortness and overactivity in this muscle is very common and can contribute to low back pain.
If you have had low back disc herniations be very careful with this stretch. Disc herniations often happen in the posterior (back) and lateral side of the back and this stretch takes the spine in that exact direction so it is not advised if you have a history of herniated discs.
This stretch is somewhat of an art form because there's no exact way to do it. You can lean slightly in different directions in order to isolate different muscle fibers.
The keys to getting a good stretch are to keep the hip bone of the side being stretched on the ground while anchoring the opposite elbow into your thigh.
Seal / Mermaid Stretch
This stretch focusses on the QL, obliques and the connective tissue in and around the pelvis, spine and ribs. It can help reverse a hip hike
This is generally a safe stretch when done correctly but if you have an acute low back injury or lack flexibility, be careful not to overdo it.
Put your weight on both hands, keeping them flat on the floor.
Be careful not to lean forward during the stretch so as not to compress the lumbar spine.
Keep the hip bone as close to the ground as possible.
Breathe deep into the rib cage to enhance the stretch.
Why Stretching is Important:
Stretching your muscles has many benefits. The four core benefits are:
Relaxes muscles after exercise.
Lengthens shortened muscles that limit joint range of motion.
Prepares muscles for specific sports when the proper technique is used.
Breaks up scar tissue from old sports injuries and surgeries/
How often do you stretch? Daily, multiple times per day, a few times per week, before exercise? After exercise? When you feel like you need it?
The most common answer to this question that I have heard over the past 14 years as a clinical massage therapist and personal trainer is, "Not as much as I should".
Sound familiar? If so, then let's try to highlight when, why, how and how often you should stretch. While stretching is very important, knowing when to stretch, what type of stretching to do and how to do them properly will help you reach your fitness goals while preventing injuries and helping current injuries to heal faster.
“Tight” versus “Short” Muscles
A muscle can be "tight" but not actually "short". A short muscle means it does not have the proper length. A tight muscle may feel tight but has sufficient elasticity. For tight but not short muscles, stretching may actually make a problem worse, even if it temporarily feels better.
One example pertains to those who work a desk job in which sitting all day is already a constant stretch of the gluteus maximus muscle and is a very likely contributor to low back pain. Continually stretching it often feels good and therapeutic but it may just further de-activate this very important muscle. Instead, a desk-bound person should most likely be stretching their hip flexors, not their glutes.
Another example is stretching a strained hamstring because it feels therapeutic but repeatedly stretching it could just be inflaming already damaged tissues while further lengthening a muscle that may already be over-lengthened. The point here is to know what muscles to stretch and how, when and why to stretch them.
When to Stretch:
There is no single correct answer to this question and there is disagreement within the medical as well as in the fitness and injury rehab fields. Here are my suggestions:
Pre-exercise: Stretch before exercise if the exercise is power and speed-based such as with sprinting and power-lifting and/or if the stretches are very sports-specific. You can also stretch an injured area carefully to help avoid re-injury. When stretching prior to exercise it is generally better not to hold the stretch for long periods. Instead, ballistic and short-hold stretches are best. But this will depend on the sport and on your own body. If you're not sure, seek professional advice form a personal trainer, athletic trainer or sports coach.
Post-exercise: This is one of the best times to stretch. It helps the nervous system relax muscles, restores muscles to their proper length, prevents cramping and flushes out toxins.
When there is pain: Should you stretch when there is pain? Yes or no? While I wish I could give you a simple answer, unfortunately there isn't one. It depends on if the type of injury, whether the injury is chronic or acute and what is causing the injury. To some degree finding this out for yourself can just be a try and see process. If you're really just not sure if stretching helps or not, seek advice from an injury recovery specialist.
Morning, Day and Night: As long as you are focussing on the muscles that actually need to be stretched and doing them safely, you can stretch multiple times per day. For example, stretching your hip flexors during and after a long day of sitting is a great idea. Stretching your calves after a full day of walking in heels is smart. Stretching your plantar fascia gently upon waking up will aid in recovery from plantar fascitis.
How to Stretch Properly:
This is a large topic so I will only make some general suggestions here. There is a lot of information out there on the many different types of stretching. Just remember, there is no one-size fits all approach that works for every person or every sport or even every muscle. Stretching is both a science and an art form.
Length of Time: I often get asked, "how long should I hold a stretch for"? And my answer varies but usually goes something like, "it depends on what type of stretch you're doing and what the goal is". For static stretching, if your goal is simply to relax a muscle after exercise, then 15-30 seconds will suffice. If your goal is to change the actual length of a muscle then you'll need to hold a stretch for at least a minute. If, on the other hand, you are doing pre-exercise ballistic stretches or Active Isolated stretches, the length of time varies.
Should it Hurt: This depends on the type of stretch being done and on the goal. A little pain is fine but generally it shouldn't be agonizing. If you overdo it, you can injure a muscle or make it tense up instead of relax.
Bounce or No Bounce: Only bounce certain types of stretches such as ballistic and other sport-specific techniques.
In summary, stretching is vital for sports performance, injury prevention and feeling good. Knowing why, when, how and how often to stretch is important and figuring this all out for yourself may take time, practice, patience. With that said, keep calm and stretch!