3 Stretches to Soothe a Sore Lower Back
Article by Lucas Rockwood
Do you have chronic lower back pain? Does it get worse after sitting at your desk or after driving? What can start off as a slight nuisance, can, over time, begin to affect your movement patterns and your quality of life.
Your lumbar spine – your lower back – is actually very mobile. Even if you feel very stiff, your lumbar spine has a great deal of mobility compared with your thoracic spine further up and your pelvic girdle down below.
However, the geographically low position of your lumbar spine, compared with its wide range of motion can cause problems where your lower lumbar and sacral vertebrae meet – your L4, L5 and S1.
Let’s take a closer look at this area, so you can begin to understand where your pain might be coming from.
Lumbar Vertebrae 4 + 5, Sacrum Vertebrae 1
Your L4 and L5 are lowest vertebrae in your lumbar spine and the largest. Together with soft tissues, nerves and intervertebral discs, this area of your back is responsible for helping to support your upper body and allow your torso to move in different directions. Where your L5 meets your S1 is the transitional point between your lumbar spine and sacral spine and affects your hips and groin area.
The most common lumbar spine problems originate around L4, L5, and S1. A disc bulge or nerve compression in this area, for example, can cause pain or numbness affecting the nerves that run down your legs.
Quadratus Lumborum (QL)
This flat, quadrangular muscle is located on both sides of your spine, between your pelvis and ribcage. It is the deepest of your abdominal muscles. This muscle plays an essential role in keeping you upright when sitting, standing, or walking. Pain here can feel like a deep ache or a sharp stabbing pain when you cough or sneeze.
Known as the lats, this large, powerful, flat, V-shaped muscle is the widest in your body, covering almost all your other back muscles (apart from your trapezius). It stabilizes your spine and helps you to move your shoulders and arms. If it’s tight or injured it can compress force into your lumber spine, causing pain and stiffness in your lower back.
This large group of deep muscles extend the length of your back starting at your sacrum. They lie on both sides of your vertebral column and help to support your spine, keeping it straight and stable and helping it to rotate and extend.
What are the most common causes of lower back pain?
Lower back problems aren’t always structural. Here are the three biggest causes of pain in this area:
#1 Cause of Pain: Muscle Strain
Just like you might have sore biceps from doing curls at the gym, you can get sore QL muscles, obliques, and erector spinae muscles. They might just be sore, but if the pain is chronic, they are probably strained, meaning the muscle itself has been damaged.
The bad news is that muscle injuries can be very uncomfortable and just as painful as any other injury. The good news, however, is that they are highly vascularised, there is lots of blood flow, so they are often much faster and more linear in their healing.
So, while a strained muscle in your lower back might feel just as painful as a herniated disc, it will heal a lot faster.
#2 Cause of Pain: Ligament Injury
People rarely talk about ligament injuries in the lower back, even though they are extremely common. Your spine is covered in these bone-to-bone connective tissues and just like you can sprain your ankle, you can sprain the ligaments of the spine. They play a crucial role in stabilization, and they heal slowly, so the path towards healing a ligament injury can be long.
#3 Cause of Pain: Disc Compression
It’s very common to develop intervertebral dehydration, compression or degradation over time in the discs at the bottom of your spine. Wear and tear of those discs can happen through age, overuse or heavy lifting and can potentially become a cause of pain.
For some people the issue is more acute, and potentially there is a bulge in a disc. This is where the nucleus pulposus (the soft central core) starts to push out through the annulus fibrosus (the tough, circular exterior) of your intervertebral disc. This can go so far as to become a full disc herniation, where the nucleus pushes out and impinges upon a nerve. Disc injuries are very common, and the healing journey can be long and slow.
There are also dozens of other conditions that can cause pain in your lower back, including pinched nerves, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, spinal stenosis and facet syndrome – or even a combination of multiple issues.
What happens if I hurt my lower back?
If you have a serious injury or if you’ve been in an accident, please see a doctor. The more you know about your injury, the better. It will help you to take control of your health.
However, let’s imagine that you determine that you have a muscle strain, will muscle relaxants and painkillers fix it? Unfortunately not. They may ease the pain temporarily, but they won’t heal the problem.
What if you have a herniated disc, can you get a surgery to replace that disc or fuse your vertebrae together? You probably could do that, yes, but that’s a major life changing surgery and it’s extremely common that surgically fixing the problem in one area can lead to upstream or downstream problems later.
The best approach to healing is three-pronged, through strengthening, balancing and flexibility practices. These focus on rebuilding strength to stabilize and support your spine, correcting imbalances and ensuring a basic range of motion so that you move in a way that distributes weight equally.
3 Of The Best Lower Back Muscle Stretches
There are no magical stretches to fix your problem, but there is a very good chance that these three poses can help with your current symptoms. However, please go into this knowing that while any spine care routine needs to include stretches, it should also include strength and balancing exercises.
For now, let’s take a look at three stretches that could help to give you some temporary relief. For each of these poses, work with one-minute holds and a five out 10 intensity. So, take a very gentle approach.
Standing Psoas Lunge
- This works your psoas, the strange muscle that starts in your lower back, crosses your pelvis and attaches to the inside of your femur. If it’s tight it can put excess strain on your lower back.
- Stand next to a wall for support with your feet hip-width apart and your right foot close to the wall.
- Turn your right foot out to a 45 degree angle and step back into a deep lunge with your left leg.
- Rest your shoulder, knee or hip into the wall if you need support.
- Raise your left arm up above your head and inwards to touch the wall. Hold for a minute.
- You should feel a big, long stretch down your left side, but particularly in your psoas muscle.
- Repeat on the other side.
- The goal here is to create a little axial extension – slightly decompressing our lower spine
- Lie on your belly, with your feet hip-width apart and toes tucked under.
- Extend your arms out in front of you.
- Kick back through your heels to lift your knees off the ground.
- Lift your elbows off the ground, stretch your fingertips as far forward as you can.
- Touch the ground with your nose and hold the stretch for one minute.
- Using a high chair, countertop or a kitchen table, stand with your feet hip-width apart, bend your knees and hinge at your hips.
- Keep your spine neutral and place your hands on the chair/table/countertop.
- Drop your head so your ears are between your arms and hold for a minute, breathing in and out through your nose.
Lower Back Stretches & Pain
The stretches above assume you’re already in pain, so the approach is very gentle, knowing full well that as weeks and months go by you’ll probably want to up the level of intensity and move on to some stronger poses.
Want to Learn More?
- 21-Day Happy Back Challenge
- Science of Stretching 5-Day Program
- Lucas’s YouTube Channel (free to subscribe)
much needed article for WFH dudes like me
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