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The Worst Stretches for Low Back Pain (and What to Do Instead)

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Jeremy Ethier explains more about the worst stretches for low back pain and what you can do instead.

The Worst Stretches for Low Back Pain

“One of the first solutions people struggling with back pain seek are lower back stretches to relieve their pain. But the truth is, many of these stretches for back pain are just short term fixes that actually end up doing more harm than good, and are the opposite of what people should be doing.”

“A stretch meant to relieve lower back pain, like toe touches (and other similar stretches), trigger what’s called a stretch reflex, which gives you about 15-20 minutes of pain relief. But the problem is that this creates a vicious cycle of thinking that these stretches are doing good and are the only solution for relief, yet in reality are just contributing to the pain in the lower back. The key is to break this cycle. And that’s what I’ll do in this video. Here, I’ll show you how to relieve lower back pain once and for all with 4 moves.”

The Worst Stretches for Low Back Pain

“Based on the findings of renowned back pain researcher Dr. Stuart McGill and his lab, the cat camel exercise has been found to be the least stressful way to incorporate some movement into the spine without aggravating it.”

“For these, get on all fours and slowly move back and forth from a downward spinal curve with the head looking up like a cat and then move into a rounded spine while the head looks down like a camel. Each cycle should take about three to four seconds. 7-8 cycles are all that is needed. We’re now ready to move onto some mobilization drills for other problematic areas within the body that may be contributing to the pain in the lower back.”

The Worst Stretches for Low Back Pain

“The first drill will target one of our major hip flexor muscles, the psoas. There’s a unique stretch meant to relieve lower back pain we can do that helps to specifically stretch this muscle. To execute it, get into a lunge position with one leg in front and raise your opposite arm overhead as you descend into the lunge.”

stretching The Worst Stretches for Low Back PainSource: Josh Duke on Unsplash

“Then, bend your torso slightly to the side away from your back leg and drop your shoulder back to further target and stretch the psoas. You should feel a deep stretch in the psoas located in front of the hip of your back leg. Hold this position for a couple seconds and then take a step forward to switch your front leg and the raised arm and repeating the sequence. The goal is to perform six strides at a time.”   

The Worst Stretches for Low Back Pain

“Next, we want to move onto a drill that will help us further mobilize and open up the hips while strengthening some of our important hip muscles. This is critical when it comes to learning how to relieve lower back pain. To improve this, we’ll use a mobilization drill called hip airplanes. For these, assume a single leg stance, brace your core, and grip the floor with your planted foot. Then, place your hands on your hips and rotate your torso forward over your planted leg while kicking your back leg behind you. Keep the back leg completely straight and your planted leg knee in a slightly bent position. Next, rotate your hips in towards your planted leg (hip internal rotation) and then transition to rotating it away from your planted leg (hip external rotation). Aim for a total of 3 sets of 3 reps with this movement.”

The Worst Stretches for Low Back Pain

“The last of the back stretches is going to help with the daily upkeep of your back. To perform it, simply stand with your arms overhead and count to 10. Then, reach higher and farther back for another count of 10. In this position, deeply inhale and work your way into an upright and stress free standing posture. By breaking up every 20-30 minutes of prolonged sitting with this drill, you’ll be able to prevent an excessive buildup of stress on your lower back.”

post workout stretching exercises

“So, as a summary, here are the stretches for back pain you should do:”

  • Cat Camel: 7-8 cycles
  • Psoas Stretch: 6 strides
  • Hip Airplanes: 3 sets of 3 reps each side
  • Spine Hygiene Stretch: Perform after prolonged periods of sitting

“Ideally you want to do these daily or even multiple times a day. At the same time though just keep in mind that back pain is specific to you and your situation, and there isn’t a general fix for everyone.”

Video – The Worst Stretches for Low Back Pain

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