Lower back pain is very common and all too often becomes a frequent occurrence, leading to people suffering prolonged pain or repeated bouts of back pain. This doesn’t need to be the case. A huge proportion of back pain resolves within 6-12 weeks, you just need to give yourself the best conditions to recover and the best lower back stretches do just that!
Back Pain is Pretty Common
Nearly 80% of the population get back pain in their lifetimes with 30% of us getting lower back pain each year! That is a really high rate and indicates a high rate of re-injury (regular flare-ups).
The good news though, is that 60% of people recover from a bout of back pain within 6 weeks and 80-90% recover within 12 weeks(1). BUT, the issue is that if a lot back pain of recovers well within 6-12 weeks – why does it regularly come back?
Passive Approach – Not Helping You
There are a few reasons for recurring back pain but it is partly because people are often passive or fearful of back pain.
People tend to take a passive approach when they have a sore back. They take the passive approach by taking it easy until the pain has settled or even actively avoid things that they think may make it worse or “harm their back” such as lifting things.
The issue with the passive, “rest” approach?
While waiting for the back pain to ease, you get stiff, you get weaker and often you learn to avoid things that load your back. Not ideal and here is why:
As with a lot of injuries or pain, with rest and reducing load, pain can settle with time but by doing less, our body adapts to that – not ideal.
- Weaker Muscles: Your muscles get weaker due to pain inhibition and low use and if you don’t make this come back, it often won’t. It’s the “use it or lose it” saying, so not only should you really work to regain strength once the pain has settled, it is actually best to keep moving and active as able when sore, to limit loss.
- Tightening of Muscles: Your muscles get tighter, to protect you. Whenever you have pain, your tissue responds by muscle guarding around the area of pain in order to limit movement and brace the area. This can be useful for a short time as it allows you to keep moving but after a few days, we need to start reducing this spasm to avoid losing too much range
Lower Back Pain – Anatomy Lesson
With lower back pain, we often get spasm through 4 main areas:
- The quadratus lumborum, which tends to brace down the side of your spine
- The gluteals, which tighten and causes loss of hip flexion, inability to bend down well and sit comfortably
- The Hip flexors. These are like guy ropes form your hip right to your spine and when they brace up, we lose extension and can’t always straighten up well, particularly after sitting.
- Hamstrings, causing further loss of flexion and cramping in the legs
Lower Back Stretches to the Rescue
Lower back pain often feels far worse than it is because of this secondary spasm. Fortunately, our 3 best lower back stretches combine to address all four areas of concern mentioned above.
You can follow the best lower back stretches we show below to:
- Help regain range of motion
- Increase flexibility
- De-load your lower back to allow it to get better, faster.
- Help reduce asymmetry and mal-alignment remaining once you are better, meaning less risk of re-injury!
Through the best lower back stretches you can help reduce risk of re-injury. You can get rid of asymmetry and you can help your back pain get better, faster, ideally for good!
It’s up to you how you approach your back pain. You can:
- Rest it, avoid aggravating activities, and wait for it to settle.
- Keep moving and proactively stretch and strengthen for a faster, longer-lasting recovery
1. The absolute Best Glute stretch for lower back pain
We want you to be able to move and bend well still and we can do this through the hips, IF the glutes are guarding and limiting your movement.
Stretch your glutes to improve hip range and de-load your lower back.
We’ve written a previous post on this stretch HERE.
2. Hip Flexor stretch for lower back pain
Your hip flexor muscles come from your hip and run up and attach onto the inside of your pelvis and along the sides of your lower spine. Their job is to not just flex the hip but also to tilt the pelvis forward and extend the low back.
When you get back pain the hip flexors can go into protective mode and brace up to act like guy ropes, increasing the tension on your lumbar spine and causing an achy lower back.
- Get set up as shown above and lunge forward slowly, keeping your back straight, thrusting forward from the pelvis.
- If it helps, contract your glutes to help ensure you are extending at the hip to stretch the hip flexors rather than arching your back.
- You should feel a good stretch in your hip and/or thigh and minimal or no lower back pain.
- Hold for 30 seconds each side and if you have a sore knee, place a cushion or folded up towel under your knee for comfort.
3. The McKenzie extension stretch (Cobra)
This is a great stretch for regaining lumbar spine mobility and very commonly used by health professionals.
- Start lying on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders.
- Breath in slowly and using your arms, push your upper body upwards.
- If you cannot straighten your arms right out, that is OK, just push up to the point of discomfort.
- Hold there and breath out slowly and then return back down.
- Repeat this TEN times and if you cannot do this then start just lying propped up on your elbows for 1 minute.
That is our 3 most effective, easy and best lower back stretches – give them a go, do them 1-2 times per day and notice the difference and as usual if unsure, no improvement or worsening pain, see a health professional.
Note: You may also benefit from a muscle release of your Quadratus Lumborum muscle which tends to go into spasm and is hard to effectively stretch. Check out our earlier post HERE that shows how to do that at home.