When somebody’s lower back starts acting up, most will immediately start stretching it. It seems like the right thing to do. After all, we’re always told that stretching is a good thing, and your back often feels better after stretching it.
Should we stretch our lower back when we’re in pain?
No. Absolutely not. I’m generally not a fan of absolutes, but both my personal experience and experience helping others has led me to develop a very strong position towards this one.
Let me preface this by saying that I’m specifically referring to cases where there is lower back pain. In fact, even when there isn’t pain present, I think a lot of the common lower back stretches can actually contribute to future low back pain. In any event, everybody’s case is slightly different, but I’m confident that this applies to 99% of cases.
We’ve all seen the statistics that a ridiculous percentage of people will experience back pain at some point in their life. Most lower back pain is the result of lumbar instability, which is usually the result of poor core control.
When someone’s core is not adequately doing it’s job, much of the stress is shifted to the lumber spine itself. When this stress is combined with less than ideal positions, instability is created. When instability is created, the muscles of the lower back clamp down in an effort to create some sort of stability. This is the cause of most lower back tightness, spasms, etc.
When an area of your body feels tight, the natural reaction is to stretch it out. In this case, however, that’s the last thing you want to do. Stretching is going to inhibit the tight muscles (causing them to relax and resulting in temporary relief) but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem.
When those muscles relax, your back at square one where there’s still spinal instability but now you have no support. The muscles will simply tense back up again when you’re in a provocative position. It’s a never ending cycle.
The solution is to focus on core stability rather than mobility. You need to absolutely hammer the “anti” core exercises: anti-extension, anti-rotation, anti-lateral flexion. All of our core training (regardless of whether or not there’s an injury) consists of these categories. Incorporating full exhales during the exercises can take things to an even higher level.
I wish I had known about this when I had my back injury. I was doing usual stretching and “traditional” core exercises (I specifically remember the Russian Twists – they make my back hurt just thinking about it) and was getting nowhere. It wasn’t until I focused on the “antis” that I finally got back to normal. My core training consists solely of the “antis” now, and I’ve had no issues ever since.
I hope this post will help you shift your paradigm towards lower back pain. It made a big difference in my life.