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Best Stretch for Chronic Low Back Pain

Do you know anyone who suffers from chronic low back pain? As simple as it seems, many people with chronic low back pain can improve and even fully heal their backs by doing one simple thing: stretching their hamstrings.

Your hamstrings are the muscles that run along the back of your thighs, from behind your knees to the bottom of your pelvis. If your hamstrings are tight, they are causing a constant downward pull on your pelvis. Since your pelvis is the foundation of your lower back and spine, having tight hamstrings contributes to an unstable lower back and a greater chance of intermittent sprains and strains. In my chiropractic practice, I estimate that at least 80 percent of people who present to me with chronic lower back pain have tight hamstrings as the root of their problem. Even if these people have their lower backs treated on a regular basis, they will continue to suffer from intermittent lower back pain if they do not address their hamstring tightness.

How do you know if your hamstrings are tight? The best way to assess hamstring length is to lie flat on your back and have someone slowly raise one leg. Your leg must be completely relaxed, and you must not help lift the leg with your own muscles. If your hamstrings are at an appropriate length for your body, your leg can be raised to 90 degrees off the ground without any significant tightness anywhere along your hamstrings from behind your knee to your sitting bone (pelvis). If you start to feel tightness before 90 degrees, you know it’s time to stretch!

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A simple and effective way to stretch your hamstrings is to sit in a hurdler’s stretch – with one leg tucked behind your bum, and one leg flat on the ground, outstretched in front of you - and to lean forward slightly until you feel a stretch anywhere along the back of your thigh or knee. An alternative is shown in this picture, where your resting leg is tucked in with the foot resting on the inner thigh of the leg being stretched. It is important to keep your back straight, and to only go to a point where you feel a comfortable stretch. If you experience pain, ease back until you are comfortable. Some people find that slinging a towel around their outstretched foot and holding onto both ends with their hands is more comfortable than bending forward without a towel. Be sure to breathe while you stretch, and to do the same stretch for your other leg.

It is best to stretch your hamstrings later on in the day, or after a good warm up such as after a brisk walk or jog. The key is to get lots of blood going through your muscles before you stretch. Alternating between legs for a few minutes each day is enough for most people. Many people with chronic lower back pain can experience dramatic improvement after stretching their hamstrings on a daily basis for 1-3 months. If you don’t have lower back problems, stretching your hamstrings everyday is an excellent preventive measure that will keep your lower back and pelvis balanced for the years ahead.

Related Articles:

Effective Exercise for Preventing Low Back Pain

The Best Treatment For Acute Back Pain

The picture of the hamstring stretch is from Stretching, (c) 2000 by Bob Anderson. Shelter Publications, Bolinas, CA. Reprinted with permission by Shelter Publications.

 
 

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Comments

I found a way that works for me is to stand and then lean over as if touching my toes, keeping my legs straight. But the trick is not to force anything.

After a few seconds, by just letting the weight of my arms and chest do the work, I find that I can easily touch the ground next to my toes (when before the exercise I could barely reach my ankles). The back of my legs feel stretched at first but by the time I am touching the ground I am completely relaxed and do not feel any pain whatsoever.

After a few moments I gently straighten up and stretch my arms upwards with fingers extended whilst standing on my toes - basically I stretch upwards.

I usually do this just before going to bed and have always found that this helps me to sleep better.

I don't know where I got this from - probably some yoga book I had read - but it works for me so maybe it would work for others too.

I also wanted to congratulate you on your articles Dr Kim. Please keep them coming and thank you !

John

Dr Ben Kim, I absolutely agree with John, your articles are fantastic and much appreciated. I find them to be an excellent reference point and have been sending them on to friends and family.

It is interesting that my own solution to alleviating lower back pain is to do a series of standing'push-ups' using a wall or other even surface to push off. Working in industrial and minesite environments it is alot more convenient than sitting on the ground. I came up with this move as a more practical backstretch than the downward-facing dog pose, with feel planted shoulder width or wider, putting hands shoulder width apart on an even surface (side of a vehicle, a wall or even a post will do with one hand above the other, in which case you stretch then switch hands over). Stand arms-length from the surface, place hands at shoulder height, keep the body rigid and slowly push in and out using the arms, keeping feet flat to the ground. Keep breathing evenly. Move the feet further from the wall and do a bit more, maintaining an even stance. It works every time I've had a minor backstrain especially after lifting something the wrong way.

Thanks for sharing your wisdom

Alex

This is a wonderful opinion. The things mentioned are unanimous and needs to be appreciated by everyone.
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Jessicamartin

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Having had low back pain in the past and until learning about the Achilles and hamstrings need stretching, I suffered horribly. I had not heard of doing the stretches while sitting on the floor but I am going to give them a try, towel included.

 

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