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How stretching could help fix your lower back pain

Fitness and nutrition · Apr 3, 2021

Lower back pain is a frequent cause of activity limitation in adults today and, unfortunately, the root cause can be hard to diagnose.

Is my back pain simply caused by muscular tightness?

There’s nothing more discouraging than trying to stand up in the morning, clutching the edge of your bed in hopes of a pain free exit, only to be greeted by a sharp, debilitating pain across your lower back. Unfortunately, this pain can happen for many reasons, including excessive muscle tightness, inadequate muscular strength, bone or muscle structural issues and/or life balance struggles, such as excessive stress.

If some or all these things aggravate your back, it is a good indication that muscular tightness could be causing your discomfort:

  • Sitting or standing for prolonged periods of time

  • Walking, jogging or running

  • Climbing up or down stairs

  • Lying flat on your back

  • Bending down to pick something off the ground

Why would muscular tightness cause this pain?

When muscles are tight and stiff, they can cause movement restriction by reducing a joint’s range of motion or by altering the way our body naturally moves. This can later manifest as pain. 

Three common muscle groups, when tight, may contribute to your nagging back pain:

  • Quadriceps (thighs)

  • Hamstrings (back of the upper leg)

  • Pectorals (chest)

The quadriceps and hamstrings are muscles that attach to your hips and, when excessively tight, can pull the hip bone out of alignment. This puts an excess amount of stress on the lower back and the surrounding musculature.

Additionally, when your upper body and thoracic cage are very restricted, everything below (from your hips down to your toes) will be negatively affected as well. All this muscular restriction will force the lower back muscles to work overtime to compensate, causing inflammation and pain.

How can I fix this pain by stretching?

If your lower back pain is caused by muscular tightness, try to complete the following stretches 2-4 times per week for one month and see if you feel a difference. Remember to never stretch to the point of pain, and ensure that you are breathing deeply throughout these exercises to maximize the effects.

Please note: Structural problems may have different treatment guidelines that need to be carefully monitored and progressed by a healthcare professional. It is always recommended to first consult your doctor or kinesiologist before embarking on any treatment plan.

Stretch #1: Quadriceps Muscle Group

Length and duration: Hold each side for 60-90 seconds. Repeat 2x per side.

Instructions:

  • From a standing or kneeling position, place your foot up on a chair or bench, remaining balanced on the other leg.

  • Keep your upper body straight and tuck your tailbone through your legs by tilting your hip bones up towards your belly button and squeezing your glutes. You should feel a stretch down your front thigh – on the side with the leg that has the foot elevated.

  • To deepen the stretch, decrease the angle of your elevated foot on the chair or bench.

Stretch #2: Hamstrings Muscle Group

Length and duration: Hold each side for 90-120 seconds. Repeat 2x per side.

Instructions:

  • Using a doorway or supporting wall, lay on your back with one heel up against the doorway and one leg flat on the ground, parallel to the wall.

  • While keeping both legs straight, inch down towards the wall as much as possible until you feel a stretch behind the leg that’s propped up on the doorway.

  • Relax into the stretch. Over time, you will be able to move closer and closer to the wall.

Stretch #3: Pectorals Muscle Group

Length and duration: Hold each side for 60-90 seconds. Repeat 2x per side.

Instructions:

  • Place an open palm and bent elbow on the surface of a doorway or corner of a wall. Face perpendicular to the wall. Your bent elbow should rest at about shoulder height.

  • Turn your body away from the rested arm until you feel a stretch, and hold for the recommended duration. You can play with the angle of your bent elbow to vary the feeling and depth of the stretch.

Looking for more personalized care? TELUS Health Care Centres’ kinesiologists are available coast to coast for virtual and in-person consultations. Learn more.

Authored by:
Melanie Portal
Kinesiologist and exercise physiologist

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