Tips for Stretching Back Muscles
Here are some hints for safe effective stretching:
Some people can have a sore or aching back for weeks or even months at a time. If you've had chronic back pain like this, maybe some these tips can help.
Alternate Heat With Stretching
Muscles often spasm, or get tight, as the result of a back injury. This can be quite painful. Tight muscles and most sore joints do respond quite well to heat (topical lotion, hot shower or bath, heating pad), because the warmth relaxes tight muscles, increases blood flow, and eases pain.
Gently stretching these muscles after the heat application can further relax and lengthen tight tissues, easing movement and reducing pain. Remember, though, in an acute injury, don't use heat until after 48 hours, because it can increase the swelling and slow your recovery. In the first 48 hours after an injury, ice is the better alternative, and ice can also be used with stretching. Ice works a little bit differently than heat; it tends to numb the sensation of pain in sore muscles, which allows you to stretch and relax tight muscles gently.
The use of heat or ice is a personal choice, and you have to experiment with each to determine which works best for your particular strain or injury. Try applying heat or ice as suggested for 10 to 15 minutes, and then see if performing the stretches helps your back pain subside. Be careful not to overstretch. Overstretching can aggravate a bad back, increasing pain and possibly causing re-injury. To stretch correctly, take a stretch only to a point of mild tension, not pain. Hold the stretch at this point for at least ten seconds, making sure that you do not bounce on the stretch. Relax the stretch and repeat right away two or three times.
Your muscles are kind of like springs. They tend to stretch fairly easily if you stretch correctly, but they tend to come back to their shortened position over the course of a few hours. So you will probably have to repeat these stretches throughout the day. Finally, if your pain or symptoms increase, stop the activity and consult with your physician or therapist.
Avoid Harmful Activities
The body starts its healing process as soon as an injury occurs. You can help this process by avoiding activities that might make your back condition worse. Depending on the degree of damage to your back, many activities you perform on a daily basis can be stressful to an already sore back. When your back is recovering from a strain or injury, you should consider avoiding or at least being extra careful with the following activities.
Avoid obviously stressful activities such as shoveling, in which the back is often twisted while lifting the weight of the shovel and its contents. Loading and unloading groceries from the back seat or the trunk of the car can quickly irritate your back even if the groceries don't weigh too much. In the same vein, be careful picking up children. It can be very easy to forget how heavy a small child is. Also, hoisting a toddler up to give him a hug is not usually considered strenuous work, so you may not realize the potential hazard it presents to your back.
You also must watch out for less strenuous activities that you might not associate with back stress and pain. Not every movement that is dangerous comes with an obvious warning sign. For example, chores such as raking or vacuuming can be very stressful to the spine, because reaching causes the spine to rotate, a motion that an injured spine may not be ready to do. Even doing the laundry, especially bending to remove heavy, wet clothing from the washer, or washing the dishes can wreak havoc on a painful back.
As your back starts to heal, gradually add these activities back into your daily life as your back can tolerate them, but remember, your back takes time to totally rebuild its strength and stamina after a strain or injury. Don't rush it.
Try a Massage
Your muscles operate kind of like your car's engine. As they work, muscles accumulate waste products that need to be removed like the exhaust from your car's engine. If these waste products do not get out of the muscles promptly, then the muscles don't work very well. Furthermore, the buildup of these waste products can even create pain. A gentle back massage helps to relax tight muscles, open blood vessels, and flush out these waste products, allowing the muscles to work normally while reducing pain and stiffness. Using an over-the-counter topical lotion that contains a heat agent such as mentholyptus can further increase blood flow and comfort by enhancing the relaxation of muscles and blood vessels; follow the package directions.
Practice Good Posture
Couches and recliners can feel very comfortable; however, very few are designed with the health of your back in mind. If you are going to sit, try not to slump or slouch. Poor posture, such as slouched sitting, can place a great deal of stress on your muscles, ligaments, and disks. This stress can make it more difficult for proper healing to occur and may increase back pain. Choose postures and positions that allow you to keep the curves of your back aligned. Try rolling up a towel to about the size of your forearm and placing it in the small of your back to support the curve of your low back. If this feels uncomfortable, see if rolling it smaller helps. Remember to support your neck, as well.
Even though rest is important for an injured back, too much rest can actually make your back worse. Let's say you have hurt your back, so you lie down on your back on the floor or couch or in bed for a week. Your decision to lie down may have been a good one in the short term -- for a few hours or even a couple of days. The rest will allow your back to heal. In the long term, however, lack of movement robs the spine of its health.
After a couple of days of inactivity, even healthy muscles start to lose their strength and flexibility -- they begin to atrophy. The longer you are immobile, the greater the loss. But muscles are not the only ones who suffer. Movement is vital to the other structures of the back, also. The intervertebral disks receive their blood supply from the bones above and below when you move. Inactive bones that are not bearing any weight become weaker and more brittle. So in essence, movement strengthens and feeds your spine, whereas inactivity weakens, starves, and decreases its life span.
Although your back may need short periods of rest in a sitting or lying position, you should try to change your position from lying to sitting or even walking if you can tolerate it. While you're lying down or sitting, try engaging in an activity that requires the gentle use of your hands and arms, such as knitting or some other handiwork. Whether you know it or not, using your arms, hands, or even your feet in this way is actually a low-level back exercise that will strengthen and feed your spine.
As your condition improves, increase the amount of time that you spend on your feet, performing light activities that require limited bending and twisting movements. Be especially careful with lifting and lowering activities. Gradually progress toward activities that include the bending, limited twisting, and light lifting that your back can tolerate.
Now you should have a fairly comprehensive understanding of how your back works and the ways you can injure the various parts. Of course, knowing how you injure you back won't necessarily stop you from doing it. Fortunately, you now know how to relieve back pain and when you should see a doctor.