It’s a logical question, and one that has it’s roots in many different sources, but stretching may not be the answer to your lower back pain. In the past, we’ve injured ourselves and been told to stretch. We’ve maybe even had some good experiences stretching and feeling better. For those of us with stiff, sore backs, watching someone move without wincing and bracing is sometimes like looking at candy through a window. At first glance, we might aim to stretch our backs to make them feel better. I can relate to all of these feelings, since lower back pain has been on my mind almost daily since I was a child.
Through my own experience with my body and as a practitioner helping others, I have slowly learned that the desire to make the spine as flexible as our wishes may not be the true goal we are ultimately seeking. The truth is that the structure of our spine has limitations, just like any other physical structure. It’s built to be durable and support us in our movements, but it’s also subject to wear and tear from mis-use. The stiffness that many chronic lower back pain patients feel is often from swelling of the joints and soft-tissue of over-use.
The basic concept that I approach the lower back condition from is this: The spine wants to be stable and the hips want to be mobile. My goal in treatment, then, is to support this as much as possible. For chronic lower back pain patients, analyzing hip mobility and strength is of primal importance and can’t be ignored to make holistic change. If the hips don’t move, then the lower back will be forced to do so. Over time, those small spinal joints end up doing the work of lazy hip joints, and the result is arthritis, degeneration, inflammation, etc.
One of the exercises I teach in my office is called the Hip Hinge. I like this exercise because it clearly shows how the hips can move while the spine stays stable. The work to be done, then, when it comes to stretching is focusing on stretches that increase the range of motion of the hips so that they can become the primary movers that they were designed to be.