Stretch Away Back Pain

“The aim of the wise is not to secure pleasure, but to avoid pain.” – Aristotle

My friend Stuart was pretty glum when we met for lunch a few weeks ago. I suspected his bad mood had something to do with his recent birthday. (He’d just turned 40.) So I asked him if that’s what was bothering him. He said it wasn’t so much the fact that he was getting older, but that he just couldn’t do a lot of the things he used to enjoy. Apparently, his lower back had been giving him some trouble.

When I heard that, I smiled. I knew exactly what he was talking about… and I knew I could help him.

Only a little more than a year ago, I’d been in the same predicament. My back was always killing me. I got steroid injections, I took anti-inflammatory medicine… you name it and I probably tried it. The injections helped a little, but two weeks later the pain would return. Then I discovered something that helped me reclaim my life.

I told Stuart about Jamie Knee, a physical trainer. When I started seeing her, she explained to me that almost everyone can substantially benefit from stretching the muscles in the back and around the spine. Tight muscles can cause spasms that can lead to inflammation in the joints and tendons. Pain is frequently the result.

Jamie also explained that looser muscles allow a wider range of motion. Loose muscles in the hamstrings, for instance, allow greater movement of the pelvis – and when movement of the pelvis is restricted, it can be a source of considerable discomfort in the lower back.

Yogalation – the unique stretching system Jamie developed – was created when she observed that many of her exercise clients experienced lower-back pain. She incorporated some of what she felt were the best stretches from yoga and customized them with isolation movements that focused on the soft tissues.

I really liked Yogalation the first time I gave it a try. Now, I’m not going to claim that I instantly had no more pain. But I did feel an improvement right away, and the progress continued. The bottom line result is that prior to using Jamie’s system I was getting steroid injections every 90 days (as often as my doctor would allow it). But now, a year and a half later, I haven’t needed a single shot.

I told all this to Stuart. I also told him that I had done a little research and found that a large percentage of medical professionals are in agreement with the benefits of stretching. For instance, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says, “You can minimize problems with back pain with exercises that make the muscles in your back, stomach, hips, and thighs strong and flexible.” I’ve also read studies showing that stretching can even help reduce cholesterol and reverse hardening of the arteries.

When I told Stuart that I was so impressed with Jamie’s system that I helped her produce a video program so other people could benefit from it, I had his complete attention. He was ready to try it, and followed me back to my office to get a copy.

I got a call from Stuart yesterday, and he tells me he’s already started to see improvement in his lower-back pain. In fact, he felt good enough to join a gym and resume a full workout program.

Here are a few of the Yogalation exercises Jamie developed to help counteract lower-back pain:

  • The Spinal Twist

Start in a sitting position with both legs straight in front of you and hands on the floor. Bend one leg at the knee and cross it over the other (so the ankle of your bent leg touches the thigh of your resting leg). Then lean to one side as far as you can without lifting your hands from the floor. Hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds, then stretch to the other side.

Many traditional stretching programs teach you to lean forward to stretch. But Jamie has her clients lean to the side or twist, which isolates the lower back and stretches it without tension.

  • The Pretzel

Lie on your back and bring your knees up to your chest to stretch your back. Without putting your feet on the floor, keep one leg pulled up to your chest and cross the other leg over the one that is pulled to your chest (so your ankle is touching your shin just below your knee). Hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds and switch legs.

Many people teach a stretch that merely brings the legs to the chest while you’re lying on your back. But because Jamie has you cross one leg over the other, a hamstring stretch is added to the equation. And, as I mentioned above, flexible hamstrings are critical for a wider range of motion of the pelvis.

  • Rolling Legs

Lie flat on your back, keeping one leg, your glutes, and the palms of your hands flat on the floor. Bend the knee of your other leg and bring that knee up toward your stomach. Extend the raised leg and make very small circles in the air with it. First make clockwise circles, then make counterclockwise circles.

This stretch is different from stretches in most traditional programs because it assures that the hips and glutes are immobilized or isolated. Jamie says that by keeping the circles very small and keeping your hips, glutes, and the other leg flat and motionless, you get a much more concentrated stretch and strengthening of the leg.

If you have been suffering from lower-back pain and haven’t found much relief with other methods, I strongly urge you to give stretching a try. And when you do, whether you use Jamie’s Yogalation system or another stretching program, here are some of her general guidelines:

  • Wear comfortable clothes that won’t bind.
  • Do not force the body into difficult positions. Stretching should be pain-free.
  • Move into each stretch slowly and avoid bouncing, which may actually tear muscles.
  • Stretch on a clean, flat surface that is large enough for you to move freely.
  • Hold each stretch long enough (10-15 seconds) to allow the muscles to become loose.
  • Repeat each stretch 5 to 10 times.

Many people – including Stuart and me – have gotten a great deal of relief from lower-back pain with an effective stretching routine. Perhaps stretching will work for you, too.

[Ed. Note: Learn more about how you can alleviate lower-back pain with Jamie Knee’s Yogalation system here.]