"A few good stretches.."
August 25, 2010 10:21 PM   Subscribe

Im looking for a handful of stretches to ease lower back "tightness".

I get minor lower back pain pretty regularly, not enough to cause concern, just enough to get me to notice it.
Its even more pathetic in the morning.. Some days are better than others but it always takes me a great deal of effort just to put my socks on due to a complete lack of flexibility and a tight lower back.
Im 27 years old, this seems ridiculous!
Im very athletic and active, not over weight.
So basically im looking for a handful at most of basic stretches or yoga positions that would be most beneficial for my back that I can do before bed, or when I get up, or whenever I have 10 minutes or so.
A yoga dvd or something similar is way too much, it will just sit there.. I just need something to get me started before I can even seriously consider yoga.

Anybody else have similar issues and found that X,Y or Z worked well??

Thanks a lot!
posted by Esefa to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Piriformis Muscle Stretch?
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 10:32 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I used to have regular minor lower back pain, just sitting in a child's pose for 10 minutes or so would help.

(but I say "used to" because I started doing yoga regularly and haven't had any pain since... just sayin')
posted by transient at 10:43 PM on August 25, 2010

Best answer: You actually don't want to stretch the lower back. All those little muscles in there are supposed to work as stabilizers, and extra flexibility will only increase risk of injury.

Men's Health has an article with a surprisingly decent series of exercises. They're gentle and seem simple, the trick is to make sure you're activating your core muscles and stabilizers while doing them--really focus on controlling the movement and tightening your core over the course of them, not letting your lower back sway in any manner.

Tight hip flexors and weak glutes can also lead to lower back pain. Throw in some glute bridges every day (say a few sets of ten, holding the movement for a couple seconds at the top and focusing on leading the movement with your glutes), and do a hip flexor stretch on a regular basis. Throw in some glute and piriformis stretches for good measure--the "stretch" sections on all have good options.

A well-taught yoga class works by pretty much putting you in poses that do the above (stretching + teaching core stabilization).
posted by Anonymous at 10:46 PM on August 25, 2010

Where in your lower back are you feeling pain? You say you're athletic. Does that include good core strength? Do you have balanced strength in your trans ab, rectus ab and obliques, glutes, hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, and back? How is your posture throughout the day? Stretches alone may not be the best solution.

If it takes a great deal of effort to put your socks on in the morning, I'd advise seeing a doctor. You don't have to be rolling around on the floor in excruciating pain before going in. If it's warranted, your doc might send you off to a physical therapist who can assess the issue and help correct any problems. Whip you into shape, and off you go putting socks on like a superstar, with hugely reduced chances of rolling around on the floor in excruciating pain at any point in your future.
posted by moira at 10:46 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you need to build strength as well as flexibility. Your back muscles need to be strong enough to support good posture, otherwise you'll walk around slouching all day and that will cause more backaches. Sun salutations are great for this. Don't be intimidated by the Sanksrit in the video; it's just a defined set of exercises which flow into one another, and each one builds strength and flexibility in the back. I'm not a big yoga enthusiast; sun salutations are really all I do. But since I started doing them regularly, my posture is much better and my back is a lot less sore.
posted by embrangled at 10:51 PM on August 25, 2010

Adding: I personally do stretches for piriformis/glutes, hip flexors, quads, and hamstrings, and strengthening exercises for all of the above, plus abs, back, and other muscles specifically related to somewhat different but related issues. These stretches and exercises were all given to me in a recent round of physical therapy that was hugely effective in increasing my functionality and damn near eliminating my pain.
posted by moira at 10:56 PM on August 25, 2010

Do you possibly have anterior pelvic tilt? As mentioned earlier, shortened hip flexors and dormant glutes can lead to lower back pain.

Fix anterior pelvic tilt
PDF article

Posterior pelvic tilt can also be a problem but I don't know much about fixing that. Immobility in the hips can cause your lower back to compensate by being more mobile. Thus, stretching the back muscles can just make the problem worse.

The two hip flexor stretches and the glute bridges are an excellent suggestion from schroedinger. Make sure to look at the anatomical pictures to make sure the right muscles are being stretched. Sometimes a little twisting is necessary.
posted by just.good.enough at 11:32 PM on August 25, 2010

Best answer: As someone who has been suffering chronic back problems since the age of 17, I really recommend yoga, both for minor pain and stiffness and as a preventative measure to ward off more serious problems. I've done all kinds of physical therapy and learned the exact same things I've learned from yoga, except more expensively.

I can recommend all of the poses on this page, plus child pose, dog pose and cobra pose. You can look around that site for more ideas, but some of the poses are a little advanced, and you don't want to hurt yourself.

I know you said you don't want DVDs, but I'm going to recommend them anyway. Taking classes is always a good idea for a beginner, but if you can't or just don't want to, I can recommend this Rodney Yee DVD Back Care Yoga. It's a gentle workout for the back and pretty easy for a beginner.

For a more serious treatment of back problems, I recommend Viniyoga Therapy for Low Back, Sacrum, and Hips It's more intense and targeted and has three levels of workout. It's also clinically proven to improve back pain. I like that it comes with mp3's of the workout so you can do them anywhere with your ipod or other device.

Obviously, IANAD and IANAYI (I am not a yoga instructor), so ymmv. I got to a point where yoga wasn't preventing or treating my pain, but it did keep me free of major pain for several years.
posted by threeturtles at 11:33 PM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

When my lower back feels a little tightened up by a long day, I lay on the ground and bring my feet up and over my head to stretch things out some. By adjusting how you pull, you can hit your hamstrings, glutes or lower back pretty effectively.

Oh and always, always, always do all stretches slowly and in control. Throwing things around can cause more problems. I try to count to nine on all my stretches, I don't know why I don't go to ten.

But, if you are in as much discomfort when you get up then you should probably go check in with your doc or a good chiropractor.
posted by fenriq at 11:35 PM on August 25, 2010

5 minutes of belly dance moves loosens me up so much that I can actually have a whole night of pain free sleep. It's like magic!(and yoga actually made the pain worse)
posted by Vaike at 11:56 PM on August 25, 2010

Here is a book worth trying:

Back RX: A 15-Minute-a-Day Yoga- and Pilates-Based Program to End Low Back Pain [Paperback]


It is written by a sports-medicine doctor who works at the Hospital for Special Surgery in NYC and is a professor at Cornell University Medical Center in Manhattan. He has been the official back-care advisor for the PGA and the men's pro tennis tour.
posted by noonknight at 2:44 AM on August 26, 2010

Until recently, I had similar issues. There was never a moment of any day that I wasn't conscious of my lower back hurting. If anything, working out seemed to exacerbate it. But so did standing, sitting, lying down, etc. Until I found this book on another AskMetafilter thread. The exercises are very simple, take just a few minutes, and have made a world of difference for me. The secret (if there is one) is to extend the muscles (i.e., accentuating the curve of your back) rather than flexing them (with the child's pose and other stretches endorsed by every chiropractor I ever consulted).
posted by DrGail at 3:36 AM on August 26, 2010

Happy Baby
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 4:24 AM on August 26, 2010

I purged lower back problems from my life several years ago by doing squats religiously. No weights are necessary, especially if you are starting from scratch.
posted by bukvich at 6:15 AM on August 26, 2010

Cat Cow is an excellent beginning pose for your lower back, and very easy to incorporate into a daily routine. Try 5 minutes or so when you wake up, and again before bed.
posted by susanvance at 6:25 AM on August 26, 2010

Once I was like you. Sore stiff back, but fit and athletic otherwise. Then I foundStretching. It has a short (5 mins!) wake-up / bedtime routine that within a week removed my pain. Nothing fancy, and you can do them in bed.
posted by gregglind at 7:39 AM on August 26, 2010

Not a doctor, but what I've heard over and over in my quest to cure my own years of back pain is that if your stiffness is worst in the morning then you either need a better mattress, or you have rheumatoid arthritis, especially if you are in otherwise athletic shape. Arthritis starting in the late 20's isn't unheard of. I was recently diagnosed with osteoarthritis at 32. Prescribed treatment from my doctor was physio therapy and an anti-inflamatory (Aleve or ibuprofen). It wouldn't be unreasonable to see a doctor about this.

Treatment from my physio was core and glute-strengthening exercises and stretches for the hamstrings and hip flexors similar to schroedinger's links. N'thing what other people have said about not wanting to stretch your lower back, only strengthen it. Mid- and upper-back should be stretched, but not below your lumbar.
posted by dodecapus at 7:58 AM on August 26, 2010

No More Aching Back has an easy, 15-minute routine that fixed me.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:41 AM on August 26, 2010

Not a doctor, but what I've heard over and over in my quest to cure my own years of back pain is that if your stiffness is worst in the morning then you either need a better mattress, or you have rheumatoid arthritis

Surely you mean osteoarthritis? Rheumatoid is the much less common crippling form of arthritis that's caused by a malfunctioning immune system, osteo is the one caused by wear and tear on your connective tissues.
posted by TungstenChef at 9:05 AM on August 26, 2010

Six directions of the spine/yeses, nos, and maybes. Forward bend, back bend, twist left and right, then side bend left and right.... That's about as simple as it gets, but it's all about taking time to do it regularly and using your core muscles to move/twist rather than just hauling yourself around.
posted by anaelith at 9:54 AM on August 26, 2010

Pigeon Pose helps me quite a bit. My lowerback is a mess partly because of how tight my hamstrings are. I get in that pose and lean forward as far as I can.
posted by jasondigitized at 9:55 AM on August 26, 2010

When I get occasional back pain and soreness, the thing that helps me the most is a very simple move:

Lie on your back and put your legs up with your knees bent at 90 degrees - support your legs completely. For example, scoot up against a couch so your legs are on the couch, your knees are bent at 90, and your hips are at 90 degrees. Completely relax. Don't push or flex or stretch anything. Just let your whole back and spine release and relax into the floor. 5 minutes. I like to do it right before bed.
posted by peep at 11:10 AM on August 26, 2010

Response by poster: Wow tons of great info and advice! I have my homework cut out for me.
At this point it seems like I cant rule out muscle issues, since im sure I could benefit from being more "balanced", so ill try some of the aforementioned strengthening techniques along with these awesome looking stretches.
I have sorta struggled with my posture all my life and I find that I still have to consciously force it to a correct position from time to time. It hadn't occurred to me until this post that the two could be linked.
I also had no idea that the lower back was not meant to be stretched! I guess that why its always better to ask first eh?? Makes sense though now that I think of it.
Cant possible pick a best answer here, thanks everyone for the detailed responses!
posted by Esefa at 2:05 PM on August 26, 2010

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