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4 Critical Stretches for Low Back Pain

I personally have struggled with low back pain ever since I was 18. I even had a critical injury that required surgery when I was 25. Ever since, I have been researching what causes low back pain and experimenting with ways to alleviate it. 

I now have a pretty good routine that has served me well over the last several years. I've even gotten a recent MRI, and it still shows a severe herniation that my doctor has said normally causes severe crippling pain in people when it is that bad. But "knock on wood" I have only minimal pain and discomfort and no limitations in activity (including golf).

This is the first of a multi-part series on what I do to manage my low back pain. This is for general information sharing only and you should absolutely consult with your physician or trainer before trying these, particularly if your pain is severe.

For most people that have an onset of low back pain without an injury to point to, it is likely caused by weak core muscles, tight glutes and upper leg muscles, or likely a combination of both. One thing I have learned is how connected the lower back is to other major muscle groups, particularly in the upper legs and glutes. The pain you feel may be in your lower back but what may be causing it are tight muscles that connect to that region that are causing the compression, tightness, and pain.

Here are 4 critical stretches that I do to loosen those muscle areas that help alleviate my pain. 
  1. Forward Bend for Hamstrings - Put your feet shoulder width apart and with as straight of a back as possible and straight legs, bend forward until you feel a stretch in the back of your legs. Focus on hinging from your pelvis instead of arching your back to pull the hamstrings tight to get a good stretch. Use a chair or block for support if you can't reach the floor or bend your knees for a lighter stretch. Midway through the stretch, pull in your stomach and arch your back like your folding yourself over a barrel. This will shift the stretch from the hamstrings to the lower back.
  2. Figure Four Glute Stretch - This is where you lie on your back or sit in a chair and fold one leg over like you're crossing your legs (ankle of one leg sits just above the knee on the other). Then if you are on your back, pull the other leg towards your chest to get stretch in the crossed leg. If you are sitting up, lean your upper body forward to feel the stretch. You can also cross your leg all the way over so the hamstring on the top leg sits on the thigh of the bottom leg. Pull back or lean forward to feel a stretch in a different part of the glute.
  3. Standing Quad Stretch - While standing with your feet at shoulder width, raise your foot behind you to kick your butt and grab your ankle. Pull the ankle towards your glute while pulling the knee straight and low until a stretch is felt in the quad. Switch to other leg. Use a wall or doorway for stability.
  4. Catcher's Stretch - Just like the baseball position, squat down until you feel a stretch in your lower back. Try different angles with your glutes, shoulders, arms, knees and ankles to get at different parts of the lower back region. This gets the connective tissue and tendons from all the major muscles that support your lower back. Another version of this is the child's pose in yoga where you kneel on the ground then bring your pelvis on your heels and put your head and arms on the ground and lengthen until you feel a stretch. 
I try to do each of these at least twice a day, once when I wake up and once before I go to bed. I also try to do them during the day. Maybe the glute stretch from my desk chair or the quad stretch standing in a doorway or the hamstring bend or catcher's position anytime. These go a long way to keeping my muscles loose and flexible and keeping my lower back pain to a minimum.