Lower back pain 101
Low back pain is a beast. And not just because it can make you feel like your body is rebelling against you. Back pain can is a symptom of a problem. To treat the symptom – with things like stretches for lower back pain – you have to know what the problem is.
This becomes complicated because the cause of low back pain is sometimes hard to pin down. Sometimes it’s obvious. You pick up a heavy box without thinking about proper lifting form and – bam! – you pull a muscle and end up with an acute bout of pain. But other times, the problem is more insidious and unclear.
Maybe after years of inactivity, you’ve felt pain starting to creep in, possibly due to changes in muscle balance, decreases in strength, and general inflammation. Maybe you injured yourself years ago and, over time, a minor injury exacerbated it into something more serious.
Here’s why stretching could help lower back pain
That doesn’t mean you have to live with the pain. Movement (you know, exercise) is one of the best ways to prevent, limit, and address back pain.
“Most of us aren’t moving in the variety of ways our bodies are built for, and habitual postures and sedentary living create excessive muscular tension, which leads to discomfort,” says Lara Heimann, a licensed physical therapist and yoga instructor. “Our bodies signal to us ‘please move!’ But we often ignore the signals and instead adapt to not listening. Over time, we lose some of the innate brain signallings that would otherwise keep us healthy and mobile.”
The answer, then, is to move more. You need a well-rounded exercise program that includes back pain exercises, as well as cardiovascular and muscle-strengthening exercises. Incorporating flexibility and stretching exercises can also help you attain and maintain the range of motion you need to help keep pain at bay.
“Taking time to stretch helps decrease stiffness, reduces pain and discomfort, and reprograms our brains to send signals when we need to get up and stretch,” Heimann says.
Regular stretching can also facilitate better circulation, allowing for more efficient transportation of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood throughout the body, says Heimann.
But most importantly, Heimann stresses that stretching is a preservation tool for movement, helping prevent tightness and tension that can set the stage for injuries. “Regular stretching helps to preserve joint health,” Heimann says. “The joint can move freely and efficiently in all directions with decreased stress placed on its structures.”
Word of caution
Back pain has so many causes and some are more serious than others. If your back pain persists for more than a few days, or if it’s severe or causes weakness or tingling in your extremities, make an appointment to see your doctor. Also, avoid any stretch or exercise that causes sharp or shooting pain. Not all types of stretches or exercises are appropriate for every person or every injury. This is why extended self-treatment isn’t advised. To address an issue effectively, you need to know exactly what the issue is.