If you’ve ever had pain in your low back, you’ve probably Googled stretches for lower back pain. Stretching and/or massage can temporarily relieve lower back pain, but it’s often not the cure.
With my clients who have been doing stretches for lower back pain, I often find that they’re either stretching the wrong muscles or they’re not strengthening the core after stretching. A major cause of lower back pain is a weak core.
But before we get into stretches for lower back pain, let’s look at posture first.
I’ve talked about anterior pelvic tilt a lot. This is a posture that makes your lower back muscles contract, stretches your abs, and flares your ribs.
Check out this video to check your lumbar posture. Watch from the beginning until around minute 1:40 for the posture assessment.
If you have anterior pelvic tilt, you’ll be a good candidate for doing stretches for the lower back.
Those lower back muscles are called your spinal erectors. They can become overactive if your core isn’t providing enough stability. So in that case, you’ll want to stretch or roll your lower back.
Stretches for Lower Back Pain
OK, so I’m going to show you a couple stretches for those erector muscles, but keep reading for the core activation exercises you should do following the stretch!
The Knee Hug and Angry Cat help lengthen the erectors, but don’t really isolate the lumbar section. Sometimes, you just need a little bit more than a simple stretch in order to really relax the tension in the lower back/erector muscles.
Instead of stretching, I like to use two small balls on either side of the spine. Just stick two tennis balls in a sock and make your own foam roller! Then, roll along your spine for 1-2 minutes. It’s a poor man’s massage. (Watch video below for demo.)
The other area that I must mention when it comes to lower back pain is a c-section scar. A c-section scar can shut down core function. And again, if your core isn’t firing, your low back is likely going to hurt. You can’t really stretch a scar, but you can definitely massage it. So please check out this blog and this blog if you’ve had a c-section or other surgery on your abdomen.
Strengthen your Core
After rolling or doing the stretches for lower back pain, you immediately do a core strengthening exercise. This is because you’re retraining your brain. You have to convince the brain that the core muscles are going to do their job so that the brain lets go of the erectors. When you apply a corrective exercise strategy to correct a muscle imbalance, what you’re really doing is rewiring your brain. It will take a few weeks to really hold. So it’s important to do both the stretch/massage AND the core exercise every day.
My favorite core strengthening exercise is the Dead Bug. It activates the deep core stabilizer muscle. And there are so many ways to progress the Dead Bug.
But keep in mind that rib position and breathing are an important part of activating your core muscles too. Pay attention to those while you’re exercising!
So the next time you find yourself with a tight low back or lower back pain, grab your sock roller and spend a minute rolling. Then dead bug. You’ll find this combo gets better results (if done consistently) than stretching alone.
For a 4-week, at home, posture and core strengthening program, check out Restore the Core.