If you are having lower back pain, you are not alone. According to the National Institutes of Health, lower back pain, ranging from stabs of sharp pain to dull and constant aches, is a common health problem that affects 8 out of 10 people during their lifetime.
Lower back pain is sometimes short-lived, with minor muscle strains or sprains that heal naturally. Whereas many people suffer from chronic back pain, others have lower back pain flare-ups that come and go.
To help relieve lower back pain, read here for the best science-backed stretches seniors can perform to prevent debilitating back pain.
What Causes Lower Back Pain?
Lower back pain in older adults is generally caused by injury to the muscles, vertebral discs, spinal ligaments, or facet joints – the parts of the spine that help your body twist and bend when the body moves in different directions. Another common cause of lower back pain in seniors is lumbar spinal stenosis.
Fitness Buffhq, a certified personal fitness trainer & specialist in exercise therapy, says: “Stenosis occurs when the facet joints or vertebral are worn out, and the bones move closer together.” He continues: “This results in compression of the spinal segments, ligaments, and nerves leading to lower back pain.”
Other causes of lower back pain in seniors are:
- Injury or limited mobility of the hips;
- A degenerated disc is a condition that commonly occurs due to a combination of weak core and hip muscles and poor body mechanics, like bending over to pick up an object instead of bending at the knees.
According to Fitness Buffhq, other causes of lower back pain in seniors include strain, spinal degeneration, lack of physical activity, limited mobility of the hips, and comorbidity with other health conditions.
How Lower Back Stretches Benefit Seniors?
Lower back stretches can help the elderly prevent muscle and joint stiffness, heal from ligament and muscle injuries, improve flexibility, enjoy better health, and live an active independent life as they age. Stretching daily—or several times a week—can also help avoid injuries from exercise or exertion due to weak or tight muscles that don’t extend as they should.
Moreover, lower back stretches also help muscles and joints that support and maintain good posture and healthy motion. By stretching, you increase flexibility and muscle length, allowing full range of motions in the joints. As a result, regular stretching reduces seniors’ risks for muscle damage, joint pain, and back strains.
Can Stretching Prevent Lower Back Pain?
Fitness Buffhq says, “Your “core” comprises muscles supporting the spinal segments and pelvis. And so, stretching can help prevent lower back pain, especially when combined with a routine of core-strengthening exercises.” In addition, he continues, “Stretching your lower back can help realign your spinal structures and decompress the joints. For instance, knee-to-chest stretches can help reduce excessive inward curvature of the spine and help open the joints to decrease compression on the bony structures.”
Note: However, not all stretches for lower back pain suit everyone. You should consult your doctor or physiotherapist to find the right ones before starting a stretching routine for your lower back.
Best Five Lower Back Stretches For Seniors
Just because someone’s lower back pain decreases or is cured by doing certain stretches doesn’t mean you replicate the same stretching routine. The best stretches for lower back pain will depend on your body’s specific needs.
According to Fitness Buffhq, the type of stretches that can help alleviate your lower back pain depends mainly on the cause of your back pain. For instance, doing a “cobra stretch,” wherein you lie face down on a mat on the floor and push your upper body upward with your arms to arch your back, may help treat a muscle strain. However, the same stretch may worsen lower back pain for a spinal stenosis patient.
If you have had prolonged back pain, it’s advised that you check with a physiotherapist who can help you design a specific stretching regimen for your back pain. Fitness Buffhq says: “The physiotherapist will find out & evaluate the source of your pain, assess the limitations in range of motion, and determine if there is a lack of strength and muscle imbalances. He will also ascertain which stretches to avoid further injury.”
Considering these factors, here are seniors’ five best lower back stretches.
The knee-to-chest is one of the best stretches for most people having lower back pain. However, avoid this stretch if you have a hip injury because it can lead to pain in the groin or hip flexor area, says Fitness Buffhq.
How To Do Knee-to-Chest Stretch
- Lie on your back on a mat with your knees bent and both feet flat on the mat.
- Hold from inside your leg’s upper thigh and bring your knee to your chest. While pressing against your chest, hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
- Do 10 to 15 times on each side.
The Piriformis stretch helps alleviate lower back pain caused by sciatica or a restriction in the hip due to arthritis. This stretch can also help relieve impingement syndrome, wherein the ball of the hip pinches against the cup of the hip.
How To Do Piriformis Stretch
- Lie on your back on a mat with your knees bent and both feet flat on the mat.
- Place the outside of your left ankle on the top of your right knee.
- Hold this position for thirty to 60 seconds or until you feel a nice stretch in your left buttock area. If you’re not feeling the stretch, slowly pull your right knee up to your chest while keeping your left ankle on the top of your knee and hold for thirty seconds.
- Repeat with your right ankle on your left knee.
The Thomas Stretch
The Thomas stretch exercise helps alleviate lower back pain caused by tight or stiff hip flexor muscle, which attaches to the spine. This stretch eases lower back pain and fixes spinal alignment for people who want to improve their lumbar extension & hip flexor mobility.
How To Do The Thomas Stretch
- Lie on your back on a high couch or bed.
- Slide the left side of your body toward the edge of the couch or bed (but not so far that you feel you can fall).
- Pull your left knee toward your chest while hanging your left leg off the side of the couch or bed. Press your knee against the chest & hold it there for thirty to 60 seconds. You should feel this stretch in your left thigh and the front of your left hip rather than your back.
- Repeat on the other side.
Lower Trunk Rotation
If you suffer from lower back pain from stiff joints, lower trunk rotation can help you improve rotational flexibility in your torso and hips. But this stretch may not help treat pain occurring because of disc injuries, says Fitness Buffhq.
How To Do Lower Trunk Rotation Stretches?
- Lie on your back on a mat with both knees bent, both feet flat on the mat, and your arms out to the sides.
- Bring the ankles and knees together.
- While keeping your upper trunk stationery and knees together, slowly allow both legs to fall to the right and touch the mat or as far as possible. You should feel a gentle stretch in your lower back and hips. Hold the position for up to thirty seconds.
- Repeat on the other side. Do these movements an equal number of times on each side.
As the name implies, this stretch exercise increases hamstring flexibility, improving spinal alignment. However, this stretch may not be right if you have sciatica or lumbar radiculopathy (pain down your legs), as the hamstring stretch could irritate a compressed nerve in the spine.
How To Do Hamstring Stretch
- Lie on your back on a mat with both legs extended.
- Take a towel or exercise strap and place it on the ball of your left foot to pull the leg up toward the ceiling. Hold the stretch for thirty to 60 seconds. Then, lower the leg to the starting position.
- Repeat with your other leg. Do these movements an equal number of times on both legs.
About Author: Renu Bakshi, AKA Fitness Buffhq, is ISSA Certified Elite Trainer. He passed Personal Fitness Trainer Course, Nutrition Health Coach course & Specialist Exercise Therapy course from ISSA, USA obtaining + 97% marks. He shares his experience and knowledge about nutrition and effective workouts to get you in the best shape of your life, no matter how old you may be. The author says, ” Age is just a number!”