This is the last of series on basic stretches for a healthy back. I hope you have put the stretches on my previous posts into practice. Always remember to
- Never stretch to the point of pain.
- If a particular stretch causes pain, back off and choose another one for the same area. If you cannot stretch the area without pain, it will be time for you to go to a health professional.
- Always breathe through the stretch.
- Hold the stretches from 30 – 60 seconds.
- Do not let your shoulders drift up to your ears; keep them relaxed at all times.
The abs tend to be tight (which is not the same as saying strong) in people who sit for long periods of time in a hunched over position as well as exercise enthusiasts who overwork the abs, but do not balance their routines with low back exercises. The combination of tight abs and tight hamstrings will help create the posterior pelvic tilt posture (hiding butt, see previous posts). I stole the following stretch from Yoga. It is called the cobra position for obvious reasons.
The stretch should be felt in the front of your body, on your abs, front of the thigh and, if you extend your head to look up, on the front of your neck. Any pain in the low back or the back of the neck should be an indication that you should STOP the stretch immediately. Interestingly enough, this position is used for to rehabilitate some cases of low back pain.
- Lie on your stomach with your hands at shoulder level, slightly wider than your shoulder width.
- Make sure your legs are close to each other.
- Lift your torso by straightening your arms without moving your hands from the original position.
- The front of your pelvis (the two pointy bones at the front of your hips) should be in contact with the floor.
- You may tilt your head back as if to look at the ceiling if this does not cause pain.
- If you feel pressure (not pain) on your low back or feel that the stretch is too intense on the structures on the front of your body, move your hands forward or lay on your elbows.
There are two torso movements that we hardly experience on our daily living in we do not practice any sports. They are torso rotation and lateral flexion (side bending). The muscles that help create these movements tend to get weak, short and tight leaving us vulnerable to painful low back injuries. Stretching helps maintain the health of these muscles. I will cover lateral flexion on a different post. For now, I will stick to torso rotation.
With swiveling chairs at work, we have almost lost the ability to turn our shoulders while keeping our hips static. While it is true that we should not twist our spines while carrying heavy items (you should pivot in that case), stretching the spine in a twisting motion should maintain the health of all the muscles involved on torso or hip rotation.
Lying Pretzel Stretch
- Lay down on the floor with both arms extended away from your torso.
- Bend your left leg and bring your knee towards your chest.
- Twist your hip to your right so that your knee ends up pointing to the right.
- Grab your right knee with your right hand and keep put pressure both towards the floor and your head.
Seated Pretzel Stretch
- Sit with both legs straight.
- Bend your left knee and cross it over your right leg so that your left ankle ends up by your right knee.
- Now twist your torso so that your right elbow ends up docking on your left knee.
- You can put some over pressure from your elbow on your knee to push it in towards the midline of your body to increase the intensity of the stretch.
You will feel the “pretzel” stretches in multiple areas as they do not specifically isolate the low back. You should feel these stretches on your hips, low back and sometimes on your mid back and shoulders if you are tight at these areas.
I’ve concluded my first series on stretches that improve the health of the low back. I hope these stretches are as useful to you as they have been to my personal training clients and chiropractic patients.