Lower Back Pain in Pregnancy: Stretches that really help (Part 2) by Sally Harrison, Physiotherapist. Director of Pro-Align Pilates and Exercise
When stiffness, tension or back ache strike you need something to ease your muscles fast. If you don’t want to reach for medications then get moving with some gentle stretches. Physiotherapist Sally Harrison, Director of Pro-align Pilates and Exercise Rehab, describes some simple muscle releases that will really help.
Disclaimer: Perform these at your own risk. Avoid if you have any shoulder or spinal problems and first consult a physiotherapist.
If you are experiencing lower back pain, it is likely this is due to tensed/tight muscles in other areas as well, commonly the hip flexors, front of chest, neck and calves. It’s surprising how much pain in one place can be improved by stretching other areas! To ease soreness in general and especially in preparation for exercising, we want to look at releasing these tight areas of the body. So if you have any stiffness or tension in those areas then try the following exercises. They can be carried out frequently throughout the day, whenever you feel the need. When stretching we want to be gentle and visualise the body like ‘chewing gum’ which lengthens slowly as it heats up. When stretching use the breath and think of lengthening, therefore always moving, albeit subtly. None of these stretches should cause pain or discomfort.
This stretch/release is to reduce tension built up in gluteus medius (back of the hips) but can also be used for Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL – towards the front of the hip). Place the ball against the muscle and apply gentle pressure e.g by leaning on it up against a wall. Hold and melt into any tension that you may feel. Don’t roll vigorously against the ball, however, take it slowly and carefully.
This can be done kneeling or standing. Place one foot a stride forward and, keeping the pelvis facing forward, tilt the pelvis under using the glutes until a mild stretch is felt at the front of the hip. Hold this position or apply a very gentle pulsing movement forwards. The addition of the arm reach will increase the stretch from the supporting knee all the way to the top of the arm.
Chest opener with band
This can be done seated on a chair or, to make the core work harder, on an exercise ball. Start by holding an exercise band in front of you with both hands, slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Maintaining an upright spine throughout, gently take the arms up and behind the head until a stretch is felt across the chest. Apply a gentle pull on the band in opposing directions to contract the chest. Hold this for 5 seconds and then release and open the chest further to the next point of stretch. Repeat this 3 times. DO NOT DO THIS IF THE SHOULDERS ARE UNSTABLE.
Stand with one leg a stride forward of the other, hip width apart, ensuring both of the feet are facing forward (or even turned in slightly). Keep the back knee straight for a calf stretch or bend the back knee if you desire a deeper calf release. This stretch also incorporates a combined release of the hip flexor on the same side. A small pulse can be applied again in a forward direction, think of being pulled forward by your belt buckle. Swap legs and repeat.
Keep the feet facing forward, wider than hip width apart and gently shift the pelvis to 1 side. This stretch is for the inner thigh predominately. Keep the knee of the bent leg over the confines of the foot. Add a gentle pulse towards the bent leg. Repeat on both sides. Keep the spine long throughout.
Self massage into the pectorals (chest) whilst on a mild stretch
Block the arm against a wall/door and roll the shoulder back and down, opening into the chest area. Gently massage with your fingers from the shoulder towards the chest in a diagonal line. Don’t press too hard as this is a gentle release. It is easier to use body lotion or even do it in the shower!
Pelvic tilts on a Swiss ball to open the low back
Start in an upright sitting position, lengthening through the spine. Slowly tilt the pelvis underneath you using the deep tummy and pelvic floor. Keep the shoulders above the hips, feeling the low back opening as you tilt. Repeat this movement several times. The ball may roll gently underneath you. This can also be carried out in standing with bent knees or even up against a wall.
After carrying out these releases you should feel much ‘looser’ and more relaxed with any aches and pains eased. You may well need to repeat the stretches several times a day, however, to maintain the benefits. Feel free to leave it there but if you have time and you want to start actually training up your muscles properly, then move on to Part 3 of this article. In this we discuss deep core activation and then describe exercises which address the bigger muscles groups of the body (outer slings).