The Stretch That May Save Your Back

By Jarod Carter PT, DPT, MTC – November 6, 2020

The last few months have been interesting for me for an incredible variety of reasons, but the one I want to tell you about right now is this:

I’ve dealt with a lot of injuries in my life but luckily none of them ever involved my back. However, these last few weeks, I’ve been noticing my back stiffening up.

Why? Not because of COVID-19 or election stresses — it’s because I’ve been sitting a lot more than normal lately.

Whether it’s helping the kids out with virtual learning or a demanding desk job requiring more hustle to thrive in these difficult times, a lot of us have been sitting much more than usual this year.

I’ve had a lot of patients over the years who described the start of their significant back issues very much like what I’ve been experiencing in these past few weeks. “It started as an occasional dull ache,” or “At first, it was just a feeling of stiffness and needing a few steps to straighten up completely after I got out of a chair.”

Sound familiar?  

So, I knew not to take these early signs lightly and I had a short window of opportunity to be able to fix the problem easily.

Luckily, if addressed early on, low back stiffness and achiness are usually quite quick and easy to knock out. Today, I’m going to describe and link to a very simple, gentle stretch that did the trick for me.

Before we get into that stretch, I have to throw in a necessary disclaimer: most back stiffness and pain are not going to be resolved by a single stretch. In fact, most cases of back pain need much more than just stretching alone, or just strengthening alone, or just hands-on manual therapy alone. A customized combination of these things is often needed to completely resolve the majority of common back problems. 

With that said, if you’re dealing with back pain, Austin has a wide variety of amazing practitioners who can help give you a customized treatment program to get past it and fully return to the active lifestyle you desire.

Okay, as I said above, there’s a very comfortable stretch that can work wonders at reversing some of the back-pain-inducing effects of excessive sitting, and it can be done while you read, watch TV, or look at your phone (so no excuses!).

This stretch is aimed at lengthening your hip flexors, which often tighten up with long-term sitting — especially one called the “Psoas” (The ‘p” is silent).

Below is a quick video showing how to do it. If you sit a lot and want to keep your back healthy, this is a key stretch to incorporate into your evening routine at least a couple of times per week.

Some important takeaways:

  • You don’t need to “feel” a stretching sensation for this to work. In fact, when doing it correctly, most people don’t feel a stretch at all. Don’t worry, it is lengthening the psoas in a very relaxed manner and is having the effect we want.
  • Many people use a lunge-style stretch to lengthen the psoas, and I’m certainly not arguing against that approach in all situations. However, here’s something to consider: If you’re using a lunge (standing split) position to stretch your hip flexors, those muscles have to stay somewhat active to keep you from dropping too low into the stretch and hurting yourself. It’s my opinion that if we are trying to get a true long-term lengthening of tissues, those tissues need to be relaxed when they are held in a stretched position. So, I love the lunge stretch for pre-workout warm-up, but don’t feel it’s nearly as effective for reversing the effects of sitting at a desk all day.
  • Finally, if anything about this stretch is causing you pain, STOP. Find a good physical therapist so they can customize your treatment and home program to specifically address all the driving factors of your back pain.

With quarantine and work-from-home scenarios still quite common, this is a quick and easy way to help combat the additional sitting many of us are doing these days. Let me know if you have any questions!


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