Ask the Doctor: Stretching Your Lower Back

If your lower back feels tight, there are stretches you can add to your daily routine to help.

As a follow up from last week's article on , I received this question:

My lower back feels pretty tight after working a long day. What are some good stretches I can do when I get home or before bed?

Sometimes no matter what we do, we're going to feel tight. There are only so many hours we can work in one day without our back feeling some of the strain. There are some great stretches you can do while at work or at home to help alleviate some of this tension in our low back.

  • Yoga - There are a lot of great yoga poses you can utilize to help. Spinal Twist and Pigeon Pose are a couple of simple poses, but really great ones to do on a regular basis. They are both fairly relaxing, as well. One thing I like to incorporate with the spinal twist is to first hug the knees into the chest and hold for about 10 seconds, then let the knees fall to either side, and hold there for 10-15 seconds. After that, go back to the middle for another 10 seconds, then let the knees fall to the other side and hold for 10-15 seconds. Then repeat this cycle another 1-2 times. This helps the joints and muscles get a 'pumping' kind of action that allows some extra blood flow to the area and also helps loosen things up. Yoga has a lot of great poses and other health benefits as well - I just listed my two favorite poses here.
  • Side Bends - Bending straight to the side and holding for a few seconds can also just feel really good. I have some other variations that I give to my patients depending on their tolerance - I may have them incorporate a three-pound weight in one arm to increase the stretch or some mild rotation or forward bending. For the variations, it is best if I show people just to avoid any further injury or aggravation.
  • Hamstrings - Most people don't think to stretch their legs out if their back is hurting, but some good hamstring stretches can be beneficial. The simplest and easiest way to stretch the hamstrings is to stand up and do a simple forward bend or seated on the floor with the legs straight in front and reaching for your toes. I find pretty commonly that people with low back pain also have tight hamstrings. This is because of the fascial connections that exist between the hamstrings and muscles of the low back, as well as the direct tendinous attachment of the hamstrings on the pelvis. Tight hamstrings can cause the pelvis to be misaligned, increasing pressure on the joints and muscles of the lumbar spine.
  • Quadriceps - Similar to the hamstrings, the quads can also play a role in low back pain because of their attachment points on the pelvis and fascial connections. The easiest stretch is to get into kneeling lunge, keeping your back up nice and tall. For the more flexible among us, you can also reach back and grab the foot that is on the ground and pull it in towards your glutes.
  • Foam Rolling - While foam rolling isn't a stretch exactly, it can really help to work out some of the knots and kinks in your lower and upper back. I recommend a high density foam roller, as these will last longer and are firmer. You get more bang for your buck.

I just listed a few things above that can help alleviate some low back stress and tension. There are a lot more that I recommend to my patients, with some other variations. If you're confused about any of the stretches above, I don't have any problem setting aside a few minutes to show anyone interested in these stretches. You can contact me and set up a time to come in. With any stretch, if you feel pain, stop. You can re-check your form to make sure you're doing it properly, but if there is still pain, stop. 

Thanks for reading and if you'd like your question featured here, please email me at QureshiDC@gmail.com or submit to the comments below. 

DrJardine July 06, 2012 at 01:47 AM
Often in cases described like this, stretching actually prolongs the condition and only momentarily helps. Developing postural strength and stamia of both the shoulder and pelvic girdle often provide longer term results. - Dr. Kevin Jardine
Matt at Upright Health July 09, 2012 at 09:25 PM
And don't forget to keep your back straight while doing the hamstring stretch listed here! Allowing your upper back to bend just sets you up for more problems down the line!


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