One thing I have discovered over the years, as a result of my back problems, is how much tight muscles can contribute to back pain. By performing these stretching exercises lower back pain can really improve. If you deal with low back pain as I do, give some of these stretching exercises a try. I will walk you through some of the ways I like to stretch out these tight areas on my body. Hopefully, you can gain some much-needed relief as a result of my own experience. I had a little fun with some of these images, so I hope you enjoy them.
Tight hamstrings can lead to low back problems
Hamstrings are a major contributor to low back problems. The hamstrings are a group of three muscles that run down the back of your leg. They connect to the bottom of the pelvis and in the glute area, and run all the way down the back of the leg to the
back of your knee. Hamstrings allow you to bend your leg. They are also adversely affected by what most of us do a lot during the day, which is sitting. Most people tend to sit a lot at their computer and when this happens, our hamstrings don’t experience a full range of motion, which leads the hamstrings to shorten and become tight.
Tightness in the hamstrings can cause the hip flexors to tighten as well. Tight hip flexors and hamstrings can really do a number on the pelvis and lower back muscles. It’s amazing how everything is connected. Well, now that we have that out of the way, how can you work on stretching out those tight hammies? The answer is there are many ways.
One of my favorite hamstring stretches, which puts less stress on the lower back is basically stretching like a ballerina. For starters, you will want to use a stool, or chair, that is stable. Fully extend your leg and point your toe away from your body. This puts a lot less stress on my lower back problem areas. From there, keeping your back straight, bend forward, and don’t hunch over. You want to remain as upright with your back as you can. I usually hold this for 20-30 seconds. Then repeat on the other side.
Get resourceful, put your butt into it
If you are at the gym another great way to stretch out your hamstrings without compromising your lower back is the grab ahold of pretty much any exercise machine with your hands, bend at the knees, like you are going to sit, and then scoot your butt back. You should feel this, not only in your lats but also in your hamstrings. You can move your feet forward or back and your butt up and down to find the best position for your stretch. Again you want to keep your back straight and not hunch over.
Other ways to stretch hamstrings
There are so many ways to stretch hamstrings, but these are a few that cause less stress on your lower back, so I prefer them. There are also a couple of ways to stretch your hamstrings while laying down. One is to pull one knee to your chest and then slowly extend that leg upward, straight toward the ceiling. You can grab ahold of your hamstring right around the back of the knee. You can also perform this stretch with a towel. As you lay on your back, you can bend one knee and wrap a towel around the bottom of your foot. Then, as you pull gently on the towel, you will extend your leg toward the ceiling.
Another problem area for me and others with low back pain is the piriformis muscle. This little guy can wreak havoc! I have a post dedicated to stretching piriformis muscle. The sciatic nerve runs right behind the piriformis muscle and can be aggravated by inflammation or irritation to the piriformis. I really didn’t know much about the piriformis, until I developed Piriformis Syndrome, then it was at the top of my list.
If you need to get deeper into your stretches, to get some relief, I have used a lacrosse ball, or a tennis ball for some of the really hard to reach areas. I mostly use this for piriformis, which is located deep in the butt beneath the gluteus maximus. With a ball, I am able to really pinpoint exactly where the pain is coming from. You have to be careful though, that little ball can hurt, especially when you are just starting out. I brace myself with my arms, and slowly lower myself onto the ball. Make sure you are stable before you try this. I roll my body around on the ball.
I really focus on my gluteus medius and trying to get to the darn piriformis. The first few times I did this, I was pretty sore the next day, so it definitely works. You can definitely achieve a nice release with this technique. You can also use the tennis ball for other parts of the body, feet, calves etc. I also use the tennis or lacrosse ball to work in between my shoulders, using a wall, but that is a story for another day.
Foam roller fun!
The foam roller has become one of my best friends in my battle with back pain. I use the foam roller on my hamstrings, glutes, upper and lower back, calves and my hip flexors. There are so many great benefits to rolling. I usually roll each area about 5-10 times, depending on how I feel. I will start by sitting on the roller, on my right side, gluteus medius, area. I will work this area for a few reps, from there I will work the outside of my leg.
I will also flip onto my front and really work my hip flexors back and forth. Then it’s off to work my hamstrings and calves. So I pretty much start in the middle and work down from there. I will rotate sides and work the other side of my body as well. I typically finish off with a good roll on the upper and lower back, paying special attention to the tense areas between my shoulder blades.
You will have to play with how much pressure to apply when foam rolling. If you are just beginning, it can honestly be painful. It has taken me a long time to get to the point that I can pretty much put my full body weight on the foam roller. Once you play around with it, you will realize what your limits are. You can take pressure off of the roller by putting more of your body weight on the floor, with your feet. You can also add more pressure by focusing all of your weight on a specific area. The beauty with foam rollers is that you have control over how much pain you want to endure :).
Lunges offer double the relief
A great way to work out your hip flexors and hamstrings is a lunge. I am not talking about walking lunges, although those do provide a great stretch, just stationary lunges. Step into a lunge position, with one leg bent in front, with your ankle and knee in alignment. You will be kneeling on your other knee. Just being in a lunge will work both the hamstrings and hip flexor and for a deeper stretch, you can lean farther forward. Just remember to keep your knee above your ankle and not out in front of your ankle.
I hope you have found this information helpful. Again, these are techniques I use and have had success in mitigating my low back pain. I have worked with my chiropractor to find what works for me. Some of these stretches have been modified specifically for the purpose of not putting extra stress on my low back. See our other post for more information on stretching exercises that can help with lower back pain.