Medical experts, physical therapists and fitness gurus agree that just about everyone can benefit from stretching the soft tissues which include the muscles, ligaments and tendons in the back, legs, buttocks and around the spine. As the spinal column and its contiguous muscles, ligaments and tendons are all designed to move, limited motion can make back pain worse. People who have ongoing back pain may find it takes weeks or months of stretching and other back exercises to mobilize the spine and soft tissues. However, if they continue they will find that meaningful and sustained relief of back pain will usually follow the increase in motion. Studies have shown that 5-10 minutes of stretching daily can improve flexibility in a stiff back.
It is important to note that if you have low back pain or neck pain you should check with your health care provider to discuss whether or not neck, shoulder and lower back pain exercises should be done. They can guide you as to the duration and type of exercises that you should be doing.
Before beginning any new exercise routine there are certain things to keep in mind. These points are especially important when starting a stretching routine as part of a program of back exercises.
Important points to remember:
• You should wear comfortable clothes that will not bind or impair your movement.
• Your stretching should be pain free. Never force the body into difficult positions.
• Relax into any stretch slowly and avoid bouncing. Bouncing while stretching can actually tear muscles.
• Always do your stretches on a clean, flat surface that is large enough for you to move freely.
• Always hold your stretches long enough to allow muscles to or joints to become loose. Each stretch should be held approximately 20-30 seconds.
• Repeat the stretch generally 5-10 times.
Now that you know how to do them, here are some specific stretches that can help relieve your stiff back and any accompanying pain.
• Hips and Gluteus Stretches- The hips and buttocks, or gluteus muscles, are there to support the lower back, and stretching these muscle groups will play a pivotal role in maintaining spine flexibility.
1. Hip stretch-While you are standing with feet shoulder-width apart, take a half-step back with the right foot, bend the left knee and shift weight back to the right hip. Then, keeping the right leg straight, bend forward more and reach down the right leg until a stretch in the outer hip is felt. Reverse and repeat on the other side.
2. Piriformis muscle stretch-This muscle runs through the buttocks and can contribute to serious back pain or leg pain. To stretch your piriformis muscle, lie on your back then bend your legs so your feet are flat on the floor. Cross your right ankle over your left knee then gently pull your left thigh toward the chest until a stretch is felt in the buttocks area. Repeat on the other side.
• Neck and Shoulder Stretches-Many times a stiff back is accompanied by a stiff neck. The following neck and shoulder exercises can help relieve stiff back pain.
1. Flexion Stretch–Chin to Chest-While you are standing or sitting, gently bend the head forward while bringing the chin toward the chest until a stretch is felt in the back of neck.
2. Lateral Flexion–Ear to Shoulder-This exercise stretches the neck area below the ears as well as the top of the shoulder. To begin, gently bend the neck to one side as if touching the ear to the shoulder until a stretch is felt in the side of the neck. Repeat on the other side.
• Back Exercises-These stretches will work the muscles of the back area.
1. Back Flexion exercise-While you are lying on your back pull both of your knees to the chest while simultaneously flexing the head forward. You should feel a comfortable stretch.
2. Knee to Chest Stretch-Lay on your back with your knees bent and both heels on the floor. Then place both hands behind one knee and draw it to the chest. Repeat on the other side.