How to Relieve Your Back Pain with One Simple Stretch
By Dr. Chad Walding, DPT
October 14th, 2019
Chronic back pain can keep you from living a fully functional life. And, when back pain is debilitating, it’s hard to focus on much else. Your back pain might be so severe that you turn to strong medications and surgeries in search of relief. But what if I told you relief from your lower back pain is just one incredibly effective stretch away?
Something that continues to amaze me as a physical therapist is how simple movements, designed to preserve and restore your body, can cause a profound reduction or even elimination of symptoms from imbalances in our bodies developed over decades.
The most common causes of back pain that I see are from constantly flexing your spine, having poor posture, and sitting most of the time. A chronically flexed spine creates flexion-based back pain and contributes to incredibly harmful imbalances in our bodies. These imbalances lead to chronic pain, especially in the lower back. And, consequently, there’s a damaging cumulative effect from all this flexion.
So, today I want to show you a very simple stretch you can do to reduce your back pain and restore flexibility and mobility in your body. It’s just one of the body movement stretches in my range of 3-minute exercises, and I’m confident you’ll experience relief when you try this stretch.
Why Is Stretching so Effective for Back Pain?
Mobility is important to your physical health. When you incorporate daily stretching into your life, you increase your range of motion, prevent injury, and increase your flexibility. These are just some of what makes stretching such an effective tool for relieving back pain.
Along with relief from your back pain, there are benefits of incorporating specific stretches into your daily routine such as:1
- Increased blood flow to your muscles
- Relaxed muscles
- Proper spinal alignment
- Better posture
When we think about our physical fitness and the types of exercises we do, stretching is often overlooked. But, stretching really should be part of your everyday routine to help prevent injury, protect your mobility, and to keep you healthy.
Research tells us that most of us spend at least half of the day sitting down. And at least 80 percent of us are suffering from back pain because of it. The most alarming part of this review of over 47 studies shows people who sit for large periods of time have a higher risk of dying from all causes compared to those with more active lifestyles.2
I know, it’s a very grim reality. But, one I hope helps to convey just how important it is to take intentional action to reduce damaging strain on your back caused by a chronically flexed spine. And, one of the best ways to do this is to work towards healing and preventing injury through stretching. Incorporating stretches like the one coming up, is incredibly beneficial to your health and promotes longevity.
I want to point out that simply standing, improving your posture, or even exercising won’t actually resolve the current imbalances in your body. This is because these attempts to help yourself feel better don’t address the damage already done by chronic flexion. Even if you exercise every single day, it’s not enough to offset the damage already done.3
What Is Flexion-Based Back Pain?
The pain you feel in your lower back is caused by constantly flexing your spine. Spinal flexion is when you do a forward bending movement creating an arch in your back. And, unfortunately, when your back is in a flexed position most of the time it’s really problematic. When you have too much flexion in your spine you create too much load for your spine to effectively handle.
Think about when you sit down at your computer or in front of the TV, your posture is probably a little hunched forward with your shoulders rounded. Or when you bend forward to unload the dishes or pick up a laundry basket, you are most likely bending at the waist, rounding your back forward without using your legs at all. Your entire spine goes from a natural and neutral “S”-shaped position to a slumped forward “C”-shaped position.
Unfortunately, most people don't realize they’re in a chronically flexed state until they have noticeable dysfunction in their bodies. Remember, simply bending forward incorrectly creates flexion in your back and sets you up for all kinds of injuries.
What Does Chronic Back Flexion Do to the Body?
Your spine is designed to be strong and flexible so that it’s able to protect your spinal cord. Chronic flexion of your spine reduces its strength and causes your vertebrae to push on the discs in your spinal cord. When the pressure is more than your spine can bear, you end up with painful symptoms such as:4
- Nerve compression
- Herniated discs
- Chronic back and neck pain
- Shooting and throbbing pain down your leg
The best way to avoid all of these symptoms is to do things that promote a strong and flexible spine so it can do its job at protecting your back. When you do the stretch I’m going to show you next, the discs in your back are brought back into alignment and relieved of pressure.
Here’s the Best Stretch for Back Pain
The stretch I’m going to walk you through is called press-ups. To see it demonstrated, please watch the first half of the video below.
Before you perform the exercise, I want you to give your pain a number on a scale of 1 to 10. Then, while standing up straight, bend at your waist and reach down towards your toes, only going as far as you can comfortably go.
Keep these two things in mind and you’ll reevaluate your pain level and flexibility after you perform the press-ups.
Here’s how to perform press-ups:
Step one: Lay face-down on a firm surface, legs fully extended, with the tops of your feet resting on the floor.
Step two: Place your hands next to your shoulders, fingers pointing forward, and your elbows tight against your body.
Step three: Completely relax your body – especially your lower back, glutes (aka your bottom), and legs.
Step four: With your hands directly under your shoulders, inhale deeply through your nose, and fully extend your arms as you gently press up as far as you can comfortably go. Keep the insides of your elbows facing inward towards your body. Hold for a few seconds.
Step five: As you exhale through your mouth, try to find even more ease in your body. Remember to keep your back, glutes, and legs completely relaxed.
Step six: Gently bend your elbows as you lower your chest to the floor. Repeat this stretch 10 times.
Now, reassess your pain on a scale from 1 to 10. If your pain improved or remained the same, continue doing this exercise. But, if your pain increased, this is probably not the right stretch for you.
Next, reassess how far you can bend forward. Are you able to reach farther? My patients often find their flexibility improves just by performing this stretch. However, if, when you try the forward bending test at the end of the stretch, you’re unable to go as far as you did before the stretch, this may not be an exercise for you.
You want to repeat this exercise every two hours, if possible, for five to seven days until you’re pain-free. But, don’t worry, even if you’re unable to do this stretch this often, you’ll still benefit from it!
A note of caution. This stretch is appropriate for about 80-90 percent of those with back pain. But, there are some who should avoid this stretch. If you’ve had a lumbar fusion or have ankylosing spondylitis or spondylolisthesis, this is not an ideal stretch for you.
How Can You Prevent Flexion-Based Back Pain?
As always, I’m a huge advocate of prevention. When it comes to preventing back pain, you want to focus on creating habits that prevent postural misalignment from happening in the first place.
A few ways to create these habits are:
- Learning the correct ways of doing everyday things like how to stand up straight.
- Becoming more aware of how your body movements help or hurt you.
- Doing stretches and movements designed to promote postural awareness and strengthen spine and core muscles.
Want Even More Ways to Beat Back Pain?
Unless you’re incredibly attuned to your body, chances are you already have some misalignment that needs correcting. Fortunately, I’ve created a number of exercises designed to do just that. My full-body exercises reverse the negative effects of a lifetime of misalignment and restore your body from the harm caused by years of chronic flexion.
I’m really passionate about helping people treat their back pain naturally. It’s so frustrating for me to see patients who come to see me for their back pain, taking too much medicine and undergoing too many surgeries to try and fix the problem. Especially when a simple thing like incorrect body positioning is the problem.
The truth is, you don’t have to rely on unnatural and expensive remedies to find relief. You can fix your back pain and posture with a series of simple, corrective movements. In a series of exercises, I walk you through corrective body movements through videos and guides. You can follow along with these full-body exercises in the comfort of your own home – no equipment needed! Each movement has a specific purpose and is designed to help bring ease of movement to your body and to relax your muscles. And, the best part is it won’t take months or even weeks for you to feel better.
After just a few days of following my movement exercises, you’ll see results as it works to bring spinal alignment and decompression of your chest, restoring you to a strong and upright posture.
Ready to say good-bye to your back pain for good? Check out our NativePath movement exercises today!