In this article, I will discuss some of the most common stretches I give to my patients with low back pain, sciatica, or those recovering from low back injuries. We will begin with some of the most basic range of motion stretches to improve low back mobility. Please note that these stretches are not always indicated for every patient and so should be performed with caution, if being done without an assessment by a qualified health practitioner. The low back or lumbar spine moves in a variety of directions: bending forward and back, side to side and twisting. Later, I will present stretches that may be targeted toward individual muscle groups. An ache or a muscle pull sensation is fine, but discontinue if it creates sharp back pain, stabbing, burning, electrical or unusual sensations or symptoms. This should be discussed further with your health care provider to determine if the individual stretch is appropriate for your condition. A quick warm-up should be done before doing any stretches. If you have low back soreness after stretching, use an ice pack for twenty minutes to calm down any inflammation that may have been ‘stirred’ up. Ice may be repeated hourly until the soreness is reduced (Should I use Ice or Heat?).
This stretch is used to improve forward bending of the low back and hip. It is also one of the only stretches that can be tolerable during bouts of extreme low back pain. The stretch starts by lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hug one knee up towards the chest, pulling with arms only under the knee joint to feel a stretch in the buttocks. Hold for 15-20 seconds.
This stretch is similar to the first, but seems to provide slightly more traction to the low back during times of extreme low back pain. It is also a general daily mobility stretch to improve or maintain hip and low back forward bending. Lying on your back with knees slightly bent, hug both knees up to the chest to feel stretch in the buttocks. If experiencing severe pain, avoid using your back or abdominal muscles to bring the knees up by only using your arm strength. If this is still difficult due to pain, have someone help you get to the correct position or attempt to do the stretch on your side and roll into a ‘fetal’ position. Hold 15-20 seconds.
This stretch helps to improve low back mobility in a rotational direction. It begins with lying on the floor with arms out at shoulder level. Bend one knee and cross that leg over the opposite leg. Let the knee drop across and over towards the floor while turning the head to the opposite side. You should feel the stretch at low back and hip. Use your hand on the opposite bent knee to gently assist the movement into further rotation. Hold 15-20 seconds.
This side bending stretch can be done sitting or standing. The hands get be at the hips or simply relaxed and reaching to the side of each knee. Slowly bend to one side, without rotating and hold for 15 seconds. You should feel a stretch at the side of your low back.
This lumbar extension stretch can be tough for certain types of back conditions. Start off slowly and don’t extend into pain or further than you are comfortable. Standing tall, support upper body by placing hands on pelvis. Squeeze the buttocks and slowly arch backwards. Hold for 15 seconds.
Any requests for advice about stretching other areas of the low back or hips? Please comment below and let me know what you’d like to read about in Part 2 of the low back stretches!
Examples provided are courtesy of Phases Rehab exercise prescription software.