You need to stretch to save your back from pain

By Sherwin Nicholson | Updated May 1, 2020

Stretching and Lower Back Pain

Learn how to overcome the initial challenges of stretching

Stretching seems to be easy for those who have:

  1. Few issues with their lower back
  2. Significant flexibility
  3. Well-conditioned muscles
  4. Training

However, for most of the population, those of us who have physical limitations or injuries, and those already with pain, being able to stretch presents a major challenge, a perhaps a deterrent.

Here are the typical reasons people choose to avoid it:

  • Irrelevant for our relief (not sure if it will help)
  • Too difficult (more work than benefit)
  • Does not work for everyone (may have tried it already)
  • Having a particular muscular limit (my injury is too specific)
  • Tried it and it did not help and more (the particular stretch is ineffective)

To really benefit from, you must go beyond the limit

What most of us do not realize, is that there is:

 A specific stretch ‘threshold’ for each one of us.

Before we pass this threshold, there is discomfort and limited flexibility.  We really don’t get any real gains before this point and pretty much all of us stay here.  But, after we cross it, there is significantly much less discomfort and substantial flexibility.

Why do we get stuck?

Were stuck simply because we don’t know that it is there.

Unfortunately, we mistakenly believe that lengthening your muscle becomes more painful as you progress.  We think that it there is more discomfort necessary to progress.  And if your back is hurting you, there is no desire to go any further.

Knowing your threshold is key

The ideal threshold is different for everyone.  For some where it comes easily, their threshold comes quickly and even unnoticed.  For others with added complications, it’s clearly much higher.  If you are using poor form, technique, inadequate time and poor commitment the threshold becomes even higher.

Proper form, technique, time and determination bring this threshold down.  It allows faster healing from soft tissue damage, disc healing, decreased muscle tension and strain and more relief.

Muscle tension ruins your desire to do it

Muscles do not relax under pressure or tension unless an extended amount of time is allowed.  This means that you will need to stretch any given muscle group from 30 seconds to a 5 full minutes depending on the type of muscle your working on.

Some muscles are very tense, weak, tight or even injured.  For the first 10 to 30 seconds and sometimes even more, during the activity, your muscles are simply resisting the exercise.

You must ‘out wait’ your muscle!

Sustaining the hold lets the muscle tire and relax. Anytime beyond this initial resistance in where the stretch actually begins.  There is little progress before this point.

Problem areas can be too stubborn to deal with

Tense lower back, and hip muscles in particular will resist the most.  Who doesn’t have stubborn tight hamstrings and no pain?  Hamstrings are notorious for this resistance.  People with lower back problems have all of these issues.  Worse yet, any pain from these areas also raises the threshold to a level where your time and patience to endure it is thin.

Have a quick warm up before you begin

When you begin, make certain to warm up with some gentle cardiovascular exercise.  You should not be lengthening a muscle if it is injured.  It is better to wait for strains or tears to heal as this muscle will be too resistant when it’s inflamed.

Always Slowly & Never Rush It

In order for the stretch to benefit you, it must be done slowly and never should be rushed.  Minimal but sustained tension that does not cause strain or injury is what you are aiming for.

You’ll find it necessary to invest a lot of initial time for each muscle group affecting your back.  There really is no free lunch as you are not stretching for your time but for the time the muscles needs to resist resisting, relax, release, repair and recover.

The one with the most patience wins

Doing it slowly, although time consuming, is more comfortable and less taxing than rushing through while in discomfort.

The best way to begin is with the exercises illustrated here.  They involve both a strengthening and stretching component. These exercises encourage both passive and active forms and are important for increased flexibility and mobility.  If you can comfortably master each of them, your back will be much better off.

Despite the emphasis on the importance of stretching, it is only one key component of relieving your pain effectively. Another component is mobility.

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