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What stretch relieves lower back pain?

Grant Cooper, MD
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
Try this hamstring stretch if your lower back hurts. Lie on your back with your legs fully extended. Flatten your back so there is no space between your lumbar spine and the mat. You can do this by contracting your gluteal muscles (also called glutes or buttocks) to raise them slightly off the mat. You should also contract your abdominal muscles, pushing your belly button into the mat. This is a good strengthening exercise that will help protect your lower back.

Next, bend your left knee so that your left foot is flat on the mat. Now, lift your right leg up to the ceiling, keeping your leg completely straight and your ankle bent. Lift your leg as far as it will go. If your hamstrings are relatively flexible, you may be able to get your right leg to 90 degrees. If not, don't be discouraged. Your goal is to increase your flexibility, slowly and smoothly. Hold this stretch for 20 seconds. Remember to keep your back flat on the mat by contracting your gluteal and abdominal muscles. Return to the starting position. Repeat this exercise with the other leg. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat this entire procedure 3 times. This exercise stretches the hamstrings, and it also stretches the calf muscles and strengthens the hip flexors, gluteal muscles, and abdominal muscles.
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Several stretches can relieve lower back pain, depending on which of the muscles or structures are involved. In general, if you have a disc problem, flexing the spine may put more stress on the disc. If you extend the spine, sort of bending backwards, it may alleviate the stress on the disc. If you have arthritis in the facet joints, which are the joints in the posterior part of the spine, those can be aggravated by extension or bending backwards. You have to listen to your body, but in general, stretching and muscle strengthening are very important.
Gerald M. Silverman
Chiropractic Medicine
Straight leg raising is particularly effective for lower back pain accompanied by referred or radiating pain in the buttock and down your leg. This is a difficult stretch to do by yourself, and it is best if someone is there to assist. Getting help with this stretch allows you to relax the surrounding muscles and let your assistant do the work. This stretch is designed to loosen muscles in the lower back, buttock, and hamstring (back of your thigh). It can have the added benefit of decompressing the large sciatic nerve that may be entrapped or irritated by surrounding tissues and is often associated with referred or radiating leg pain.

Start by lying flat on your back on the floor, couch, or bed. Use a thin pillow to support your neck. Have your assistant reach down and grab underneath the ankle of the affected leg. Keeping your unaffected leg straight or slightly bent at the knee, have your assistant slowly start to raise the affected leg a few inches off the floor. Try to stay as relaxed as possible and let your helper do the work. This is usually a painful and difficult stretch that requires great patience and a little courage. Initially, your assistant should only raise the leg four to five inches, or to a point where you feel significant pulling and stretching in your back and hamstring muscles. Have your helper hold your leg in that position for ten seconds and then gently lower it again. If necessary, take a few deep breaths, and then keep repeating this procedure, each time trying to get your straight leg raised a few inches higher. For the first two or three days, you may only get your leg to a 30- or 45-degree elevation. Within a week to ten days, you may be able to get to a 60- to 75-degree elevation without much pain.

Although straight leg raising is most effective when you can stretch passively with a helper, there are two variations you can try if you are by yourself. First, sitting up and holding one end of a long belt, rope, or stretch band in each hand, lean forward and place the middle of the rope on the bottom of your foot. Now lie back, and keeping your leg straight, pull on the rope to slowly elevate your straight leg off the floor. When you feel moderate pulling and stretching in your back and hamstring muscles, hold your leg in that position for ten seconds and then gently place it back on the floor. Repeat the procedure, each time trying to raise your leg a few inches farther off the floor.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.