Pain in the spinal areas known as the lower back (around your waistline) and the sacrum (below your waistline) is very common. Pain in this area can arise from:
- A sudden muscular effort that you are not used to making (weight training helps avoid this!).
- Lack of strength in abdominal muscles.
- Shortening in the hip-flexor muscles, which may pull the low-spine muscles into a habitual angle that they are not designed to sustain.
- Weakness (or tightness) in another area of the body, for which the body is compensating by putting extra strain on the low spine, as in injury recovery, when muscles on the injured side of the body work harder while the injured side rests.
- Gut problems. Sounds unlikely, but the nerves that affect the gut “speak” through the spine. That means, if your digestion is off, the body may tell you about it with spinal soreness.
With so many possible causes, doing stretches may not be the whole solution. There is no magic bullet, no free lunch.
Even though that’s true, a working knowledge of which stretches can potentially help is a valuable tool in your personal healing kit. In particular, pay attention to the hamstring/ lower-back connection, which is often a key factor when you address low-spine pain relief. We are working around the hip before addressing the actual pain site. Often, the stress or imbalance that may be causing the pain is located somewhere distant from where you feel it.
Here are 4 stretches you can try to help relieve lower back pain:
Hip flexors: knee-to-chest pull, supine
- The Setup: Lie on your back on a comfortable, supportive surface, with your legs at full length. Lace your fingers around your bent left knee and pull it to your chest, keeping the right leg straight. (You also have the option to pull behind your thigh, if pulling the knee feels uncomfortable.) Check your pelvis position. Make sure it is even—meaning that one pelvic bone is not lifted more toward the ceiling than the other, or more toward your shoulder than the other.
- The Stretch: Press your straight right leg to the floor while hugging your bent left knee to your chest. You will feel the stretch in the front of your right hip—where your hip bends when you lift your knee. Either hold the maximum position or gently press/pull and release in a slow rhythm. Repeat with a straight left leg and bent right knee.
- Enhance Your Flexibility: Stretch and point your toes. Make your straight leg even longer by sending your thigh and calf away from your torso. Your whole leg will come alive with vitality, creating more space in the front of the hip.
Buttocks: ankle crossed over knee, seated
- The Setup: Sit on a supportive chair (not an armchair) with your right foot on the floor and your left ankle crossed over your right knee. Adjust your left ankle so that it feels comfortable—make sure the ankle bone isn’t digging into your thigh. Open your left knee out to the side.
- The Stretch: Lifting up your sacrum (pelvis) and lower back out of your hips, begin to lean slowly forward, keeping your back flat. The stretch will appear in the left side of your butt. The feeling in the muscles you are targeting for this stretch should be immediately obvious. A steady exhale stretch/inhale–relax rhythm is a good tactic for this stretch. Repeat the stretch on the other side.
- Enhance Your Flexibility: When you’re ready for more intensity, lean steadily forward without relaxing on your inhale. Keep your back as flat as you can. These two actions will develop intensity. Your goal is touching your chest to your thighs. Although you may not get there for a while, if you practice you will notice your chest getting definitely lower.
Hamstrings: one leg bent
- The Setup: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Bend your left knee slightly, and move your right foot out in front of the left to a comfortable distance. You should feel balanced. The position should be easy to hold. Flex your right (front) foot, and keep that leg straight. Your position is now: front leg straight, back leg bent. Place your palms on your right thigh, near your hip crease, and gently press. Make sure your pelvis is even.
- The Stretch: Keeping your back straight, begin to lower it slowly toward your thighs. You will feel the stretch in the back of the right (front) leg. Keep your neck curve in line with your spinal curve.Feel your way into this stretch. A long, slow pulse may work for you, or a static hold may be better. Once you become familiar with the position, you will be the best judge of what your body needs to allow it to expand its range of motion. There is some body weight leveraging the stretch; therefore, you can make this stretch more intense by leaning more weight forward. Always keep the back straight—“flat back” is the term used in fitness. Repeat the stretch with the left leg in front.
Lower back (flexion): knees to chest
- The Setup: Lie on a comfortable but supportive surface, such as a carpet or an exercise mat. Make sure the back of your neck is nice and long. This means your chin will be more tucked into your chest than pointed to the ceiling. Cultivate the feeling that some friendly hand is pulling the base of your skull gently along the floor, allowing a long, free feeling to appear in the back of your neck.
- The Stretch: Place one hand on each knee (or behind each thigh) and pull your knees toward your chest. Look for a feeling of length in the muscles of your spine below your waist—your sacrum.
- Enhance Your Flexibility: Feel how the stretch changes as you alternately slowly sink your butt to the floor and allow it to rise again slightly—without moving your knees. This is good movement education for your sacral muscles.
This blog has been extracted from The Little Pocket Book of Stretching with Ease for a Pain-Free Back by Linda Minarik.