Back Pain and Stretching Exercises: The Truth


I’d like to cover a few home truths about how stretching can help provide a little welcome relief from back pain. I’d like to remind my esteemed readers that back pain is something I claim to know quite a bit about. I gained what I know by crashing into a barrier on a motorcycle at over 200 kays per hour and by smashing several of my vertebrae. The road to recovery was long, hard and agonising at times, but it was also an incredible learning experience.

You have heard it before but I will say it again: A healthy spine and a strong back are absolutely critical for the sustenance of good health. Unfortunately, back pain and discomfort take some of the shine and joy out of the lives of millions of people all over the world, every day.

Anything to do with your spine should be carefully considered and approached with a healthy dose of caution and common sense. Let us be very clear: What I am going to talk about here are back STRETCHES, not back EXERCISES. If you suffer back pain, you should not attempt any back exercises without first discussing the matter with a qualified medical practitioner. Stretches can be employed very gently and should only be ramped up gradually, as you become suppler.

Back to Basics.

Let’s assume, for the purposes of this discussion, that you have already considered and corrected the basics. For example: You’ve thought about posture. You’ve made sure your working position helps to support a neutral position for your spine, and you have disciplined yourself to get up and stretch your legs and your back every thirty minutes or so.

You’ve also had a good look at your bed. Literally years of our lives are spent lying down trying to get some well-earned rest and rejuvenating, revitalising sleep. A cheap or inappropriate mattress can have an amazingly disproportionate negative effect on the quality of your rest and, particularly, on the health of your spine.

Unfortunately, lying in bed is what may have made your back sore in the first place. It may be counter intuitive, but bed rest can actually make matters worse, especially in the case of sciatica or lower back pain.

Don’t take it lying down.

Let’s assume your posture is good. Your mattress is appropriate. Perhaps you have even invested in a high quality magnetic underlay and pillow protector to give yourself the benefit of all-over, all-night magnets. Knowing a couple of stretches that can ease tightness and discomfort around your back and your spine is still a good idea.

So, here are my three favourite stretches that I use to help me recover my strength and mobility. Do not stretch to the point of pain and do not ‘bounce’. Stretch and hold. Increase and hold.

1. Ankle over knee

Lie on the floor, knees bent, feet flat. Place your right ankle over your left knee. While keeping your shoulders touching the floor, drop your left knee and right ankle towards the floor on your left. Get to where you feel the stretch, hold it for thirty seconds or more and then increase the stretch slightly. Reverse (left ankle over right knee) and repeat. This is a great stretch for the glutes and muscles of the lower back.

2. The Pelvic Tilt

You need to be able to move the pelvis and separate the discs of the lower spine. Lying on your back with your knees bent up, think about pulling your bellybutton down towards your spine. Don’t think so much about flattening the back against the floor; it’s more about trying to pull the bellybutton towards the spine. Do this and your back will automatically flatten towards the floor. As you pull your bellybutton in, your pelvis will actually roll up towards your chest. Take it to the point where you can feel the stretch through your back - hold, release and repeat.

3. Hook Lying March Exercise

Perform a pelvic tilt, then slowly raise one leg at a time, only an inch or two, before putting it back down. Do one leg at a time, back and forth. The goal, here, is to do this without rolling your pelvis side to side, so you should do your best to lock your pelvis in position. Hold. Alternate. Repeat.

There are many more helpful stretches (what some people call back exercises) out there. These are just a few of my own low-impact favourites.

It is definitely not stretching the truth to say that a judicious stretching regime can help reduce discomfort caused by back pain. At the very least, I hope the pain induced by this final pun takes your mind – even if only momentarily - off your pain.

Brett Noordink