Lower back pain is one of the most common health conditions. Today, over 65 million Americans report experiencing back pain, while 8% of all US adults – or nearly 16 million people – deal with chronic back pain.
For some, lower back pain is nothing more than a mild and temporary inconvenience that affects limited areas of a person’s life. However, for others, chronic or intense back pain can be a severe health condition capable of compromising a person’s ability to live independently, move freely, and enjoy day-to-day activities.
Whether you have just started experiencing pain or discomfort in the lower back, or you have been dealing with this condition for a while, there is no better time to take the first step towards a healthier and pain-free body. In this guide by iFlex Stretch Studios, you can find everything you need to know to look after your spinal health with the right stretching exercises.
Understanding Lower Back Pain: An Overview
Lower back pain is a condition that comes in a range of shapes and forms. Because of how differently it manifests in every person, lower back pain is difficult to diagnose and understand.
In some cases, pain or discomfort affecting the lower portion of the back – which is called the lumbar section – stems from an injury that compromised the health of the muscles and tendons in that area. In particular, the muscles that are the most common culprits behind lower back pain include:
- Quadratus Lumborum
These muscles attach to and surround the spine, and they are responsible for enabling a wide range of activities, like bending, twisting, lifting, and even walking! When a sprain, whiplash, or other injury affects them, you might suffer from pain and discomfort that radiates from the lower back through your hips, legs, and spine.
While injuries are a common reason that leads to back pain, up to 95% of patients are unable to pinpoint a single event as the cause of their pain. In some other cases, this health concern stems from a more serious underlying condition, like pancreatitis or kidney stones. For others, lower back pain is the result of a sedentary life or unhealthy lifestyle choices.
Stretching and assisted stretching – when combined with a healthy lifestyle and a suitable fitness routine – is an essential component of any back pain treatment plan.
The Importance of a Healthy Back
Maintaining your spinal health in great conditions is essential for more than one reason. Firstly, your spine is the control center of a myriad of vital functions, protects your spinal cord, and provides support to muscles, bones, and organs.
The muscles surrounding the spine are involved in activities like walking, standing up, lifting, bending, and twisting, but they are also responsible for bladder control and communication of sensory information.
Ultimately, without a healthy spine, you’ll struggle to move and take part in even the most basic daily activity. Other reasons to focus on maintaining your spine healthy include:
- As you get older, a healthy spine allows you to live independently for longer
- By keeping your muscles reactive and strong, you can prevent injuries and incidents like trips and falls
- A spine in poor health can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, which can increase the risk of health conditions like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity.
- Spine health issues cost the US health system
- Back pain and neck pain health care are at the top of US health spending per capita
- Back pain is the leading cause of years lived with disability (YLWD) and causes a loss of over 80 million days of work per year
Ultimately, back pain can compromise all aspects of your life, from health to finances, living arrangements, professional life, and personal relationships.
Symptoms of Lower Back Pain
Depending on the cause of lower back pain, you might experience a wide range of symptoms, which appear suddenly or worsen over time. Some common symptoms include:
- Dull pain that affects your legs, bottom, or hips
- Muscle spasms
- Discomfort and aches
- Reduced range of movement
- Inability to straighten your back
- Posture problems
- Changes in the appearance of your back
What Causes Lower Back Pain?
Strains and sprains that affect the tendons, ligaments, and muscles of the lumbar spinal section are undoubtedly the most common cause of lower back pain. They tend to happen when lifting something heavy, moving objects incorrectly, or sudden trauma (i.e.: a whiplash or sneezing, twisting, and coughing).
Other underlying issues that can lead to lower back pain include fractures, bone conditions like osteoporosis, disk problems such as herniated disks, and chronic conditions like arthritis. Structural problems like scoliosis and long-term diseases such as tumors and infections can cause back pain too.
While low back pain affects people of all ages – and temporary discomfort can happen to anyone -, some factors contribute to transforming this condition into a severe or chronic health condition. Some common risk factors include:
- Age and aging spinal components like disks that wear down
- Excessive weight and obesity can add constant pressure on the spine
- Poor fitness conditioning can weaken the abdominal muscles, which support the spine
- Low levels of activity and a sedentary lifestyle
- Spinal problems that affect the alignment of the spine
- Mental health conditions like depression
Treating Lower Back Pain: Your Options
The recovery period is essential to improve the prognosis and long-term outlook for people with low back pain. And, while you should rest, take over-the-counter pain relievers, and be kind to yourself, it is important to keep active and avoid bed rest. That is why some of the most effective treatments for an aching lower back include:
- Physical therapy (PT)
- Hands-on manipulation
- Assisted Stretching
In some cases, you might also require surgery and medications to treat the symptoms of lower back pain or address its underlying condition.
Managing Lower Back Pain: How Can Stretching Help?
When you start experiencing lower back pain – or you suffer a trauma that leads to this health concern – you should stop all heavy activities like lifting and twisting for up to a month and a half after the injury. Additionally, you should consider taking a break from intense physical activity such as running, lifting weights, or practicing contact sports.
At the same time, you should strive to have a full understanding of your condition. If you have a debilitating underlying condition (i.e.: cancer) or are experiencing symptoms like loss of bladder control, you should immediately speak to your healthcare provider, who might recommend a treatment plan combined with bed rest.
But if your back pain stems from a movement done wrong or a sedentary lifestyle, stopping moving altogether is the one thing doctors don’t recommend you do! Indeed, bed rest can be far more harmful than practicing fitness exercises on a daily basis! After all, deconditioning is something that happens extremely quickly, and can cause you to lose strength and endurance, which are essential for spine health.
So, how should you address your aching lower back when you are in pain? That’s where stretching, assisted stretching, and mind-body movements can truly help. According to studies by Harvard Medical School, stretching and strengthening are vital to healing and preventing back pain.
With the right movements, you can lengthen and strengthen the muscles that have suffered an injury, facilitating the recovery process without causing any deconditioning. What’s more, stretching your muscles can eliminate some lower back pain risk factors, including bad posture and a sedentary lifestyle.
However, of course, you should stretch under supervision and with the help of a specialized expert. When working with a Stretching Therapist at iFlex Stretch Studios, you’ll receive a customized fitness program designed to help you recover from your back injury and regain control of your spinal health.
The Benefits of Assisted Stretching for Spinal Health
Introducing a stretching routine into your life can lead to a range of benefits for your spinal and overall health. Some of the benefits of practicing stretching include:
- Assisted Stretching reduces pain – stretching is an efficient pain relief because it helps release muscle tension, which is at the root of a range of conditions, including nerve compression, pain, and stiffness. What’s more, stretching increases your range of motion, which reduces the discomfort you feel now during activities like bending and twisting.
- Assisted Stretching can expand your range of movement – For adults over 50, it is important to work on maintaining a wide range of movement. As you age, your muscles can become stiff and short. Keeping them supple and strong through stretching is essential to living independently for longer and remaining in control of day-to-day activities.
- Assisted Stretching can prevent injuries – as we have seen, stretching your muscles can help you keep your spine mobile and able to complete an entire range of movements. As you get older, this ability allows you to prevent injuries like falls and trips, and reduce the impact that trauma might have on your body and mind.
- Gentle movements and stretches can relieve stress – stretching activates your parasympathetic system, helping you relieve stress and feel calmer. This, in turn, can have endless beneficial effects on your back health. Indeed, lower stress levels can reduce inflammation and muscle tension. This, in turn, can make pain and discomfort more manageable.
In particular, assisted stretching can help you prevent injury and reduce pain. This kind of activity ensures that you are doing all the right movements to restore a healthy lower back without worsening the existing problem – which is something that might happen if you aren’t sure how to practice stretching or have limited fitness experience.
Tips For Safer and More Effective Lower Back Stretching
Stretching to improve the mobility, flexibility, and health of your spine isn’t something you should do without the help and guidance of a professional Stretch Therapist at iFlex Stretch Studios. However, as a general rule, you should keep yourself safe during these exercises by:
- Wearing clothing that won’t constrict your movements
- Ensuring that your stretches are entirely pain-free
- Holding each stretch for up to 30 seconds and repeating each movement between 2 and 5 times.
- Avoiding bouncing and entering a stretch slowly and mindfully
Don’t forget that the stretches and exercises we have seen above will yield the best results if coupled with a change of habits and lifestyle. For example, if you are overweight or obese, you might consider losing weight. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, you might reconsider your fitness routine to move your body for at least 30 minutes each day. Lastly, a healthy diet can lower inflammation levels and give you the energy and nutrients you need to live a healthy and pain-free life.
Find a Personalized Solution at iFlex Stretch Studios
As we have seen above, no two people experiencing low back pain will have the same symptoms or experience.
To avoid worsening your condition and speed up your recovery, the best option is to obtain a personalized stretching program created around your unique needs and goals by the Stretch Therapists at iFlex Stretch Studios. Get in touch today and take the first step towards a pain-free life!