back stretching exercises

The gymnasium culture has created an obsession with stretching exercises – piriformis, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, gluteals, tensor fascia latae, Achilles tendon – when really, this is getting the cart before the horse. 

There are only two back stretching exercises of any note: full range flexion and extension of the lumbar spine. The first is aimed at releasing the facet joint capsules and with more acute disorders, easing out over-active spinal extensor muscles. This is done by the knees rocking, squatting and the Child pose.

The other important back stretching exercise is passive hyper-extension using a BackBlock. This pulls out the tight walls of the intervertebral discs that have compressed and uncompliant with excessive hours of sitting.  The opening out pulls fluid back into the discs.

L1 & L5, at left and right of page, have greatest extension (pale grey column). You can restore lost range here with a BackBlock (Adams)

You will see from the graphic above that the L1 and L5 lumbar segments at the top and bottom of the lumbar spine have the greatest capacity to move into extension. Thus,  these spinal levels are the most 'opened up' by passive hyperextension over a Back Block. In this way, the BackBlock helps you restore a dynamic lordosis (lumbar hollow) an important ingredient in spinal health.

At the same time, L4 (the segment second up from the bottom) has the greatest freedom to bend forward - in fact it is the most mobile lumbar segment. This section is the most opened up by lumber flexion exercises.

back stretching exercises should always precede 'other' muscle stretching 

Stretching exercises are often a matter of treating the effect before the cause. Muscles that share the same nerve supply as the problem spinal level often exhibit  ‘raised tone’ or a low-grade level of clench. Therefore this muscle will always be easily pinged or damaged by sudden stretch. Treating muscle sprain as an isolated injury and not looking deeper (at the spine) will usually doom many sporting injury treatments to failure.

Think of a compressed disc wall as a bunched-down-lattice that can be 'aerated' by decompression and other back stretching exercises

Sarah Key's collection of Brief Videos for the Time Poor are an ideal way to start learning about your back and what is wrong with it - and how you can fix it! 

The backBlock is the most important back stretching exercise

The Block introduces the body to the ‘anti-sitting’ posture. In so doing, it stretches the fronts of the discs, pulling up the tough mesh of the disc walls and at the same time sucking fluid in. The BackBlock also lengthens the hip flexor muscles, which are very strong and and therefore adaptively shorten through spending so much time sitting.

Nothing could be easier than lying passively draped backwards over the BackBlock for 60 seconds. Just try to let everything go!

Lying draped passively backwards also stretches the very strong anterior longitudinal ligament that runs down the front of the spine. As the spine’s strongest ligament, it too adaptively shortens with spending too many hours sitting stooped - usually at a computer.  Study Video 6 in the self-treatment Video Library 'How to Decompress the Spine' to see the exact steps on how to do the PCT BackBlock regime.

The powerful anterior longitudinal ligament is like an elastic strap down the front of the vertebral bodies that shrinks with too much slumped sitting

Squatting: a Back stretching exercise into flexion

The other important lower back exercise is squatting. Earlier civilisations never used chairs; they always squatted - to chat, to cook, to relieve themselves, to bear their babies etc etc. Squatting is a fantastic spinal decompressor, heaven sent to naturally pull out the spinal base after a day spent hauling a woolly mammoth home for dinner.

Squatting rounds out the spinal lordosis and in so doing lengthens the spine - particularly the powerfully strong facet capsules. As an exercise during the day, it cannot be done too much. Squatting is also great way of stimulating cartilage regeneration in the knees. Within 2 or three weeks you won't know yourself!

You are better holding on to squat and leaning back to create more traction through your back. Freestanding squats comes into their own if you have nothing nearby to reach. You can also take weight through your elbows on your thighs  - adding to the basal decompression.  

Squatting is a natural. It pulls open the back of the spine - particularly stretching the powerfully strong facet joint capsules or 'capsular ligaments'

Squatting particularly stretches the very strong facet joint capsules, which cadaveric studies have shown to be stronger than the discs in holding the segments together. The facet capsules are but one in the serried ranks of ‘posterior ligamentous fire power' ensuring the spine is totally safe in going forward – something bad back patients often find hard to believe.

You don't have to stay bent (which is a strain!) but you should go down and up normally and unselfconsciously. This is good for the knees too. 

Child Pose: A Milder Form of Back Stretching Exercise Into Flexion

The facet capsules (also known as the capsular ligaments) are prone to shortening if you don’t bend frequently enough.  This can peg the vertebral inter-space closed and reduces the segment’s ability to gap open for the disc to feed itself.

Tightening of the facet capsules is often aided and abetted by a fear of bending, something that is very common in bad back circles. The Child Pose is a very un-threatening way to start bending again if you haven't done so years. Just a few moments a day makes a difference. It's also good for the knees and ankles. 

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