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Lower back pain when stretching - man stretching on stairs outdoors

Lower back pain when stretching: Causes & prevention methods

There are a number of reasons why you may experience lower back pain when stretching. Auro have spoken to a number of experts on the topic to drill down into the core reasons.

Why do people experience lower back pain when stretching?

Lower back pain when stretching: Causes & prevention methods

“Muscles can feel ‘tight’ for many reasons. They contract to protect damaged or inflamed discs. They contract near the end of a range of motion to prevent stretching of nerves. The problem is that a contracting muscle feels just like a stretching muscle. You can only perceive tension NOT true length,” states chiropractic Physician Dr. William Brady.

You may have:

Lower back pain when stretching: Touching your toes

Dr. Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT, suggests “forward bending, such as reaching to touch your toes, can cause increased pain in the back and legs if there is a problem with a disc. A bulging or herniated disc protrudes out the back of the spinal column and can compress the nerve roots that exit from the lumbar spine. 

“Compression of the nerve roots, including the sciatic nerve, can cause pain in the low back that can radiate down the buttocks and into the leg. It can also result in numbness, tingling, and weakness of the leg. Sitting and bending often worsen symptoms of disc issues.” 

Lower back pain when stretching: Backward bending of the spine

“Backward bending of the spine can cause pain if a condition like spinal stenosis is present. Spinal stenosis results from arthritic changes to the openings in the vertebrae of the spine where the spinal cord and nerve roots sit. Overtime with aging, degenerative changes narrow the openings of the vertebrae, thereby compressing the nerves. 

“Spinal stenosis can also produce symptoms like low back pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness of the legs, but is most often exacerbated in positions that involve extension of the lumbar spine such as standing and walking.

“Both conditions can be treated by restoring proper alignment and mobility to the lumbar spine. A focus on core strengthening exercises is key for stabilising the low back to prevent nerve irritation.” (Dr. Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT)

Low level vestibular problems

Bill Daniels is an award winning personal trainer who specialises in brain-based exercise for weight loss and pain relief, and behaviour change strategies. In his personal experience, he notes that “99% of people with low back pain have a low level vestibular (inner ear) problem.  The vestibular system is your balance system. It tells your brain what way gravity is pulling you. In a healthy vestibular system, your brain knows which way is down. 

“As a result, it will set the appropriate tone in all of the muscles that support your spine so that you don’t collapse to the ground. If your vestibular system is slightly off, then your brain can’t appropriately regulate the tension in these spinal erector muscles. This usually leads to lower back pain. Although it is true that if the stimulator issue can cause something like vertigo or poor balance, lower level vestibular issues will often lead to lower back pain.”

When to seek medical attention

“Most of the time, there’s nothing dangerous about experiencing lower back pain when stretching. You can just take it a little slower, not stretch quite as far, and work your way up to it gradually.

“To reduce the lower back pain when stretching, try alternating ice and heat a few times a day. Getting in the swimming pool and doing any type of movements can also be really beneficial, because it helps you move your back without as much impact on the spine.

Some situations where you should seek medical care include the following:

  • If you’re experiencing numbness or weakness in any part of your legs, including your feet
  • Experience numbness in your groin area with or without incontinence
  • If the pain is severe or debilitating
  • If you have a fever or other unusual symptoms in conjunction with the pain”

(Ben Tanner, PA)

Lower back pain stretches

There are a number of exercises you can do to alleviate the lower back pain when stretching. But please ensure you receive the correct medical advice if your pain is excruciating or severe. Dr. William Brady has outlined five exercises below. 

1. Standing toe touch


If you already have a lot of flexibility, this is a great way to maintain low back and hip health. 

How to perform

  • Stand with your feet close together.
  • Look down at your feet and forward fold to touch your toes.
  • Avoid pulling your upper back down forcefully.
  • Keep the movement slow and controlled.
  • Hold at the bottom of the movement for a few seconds before returning to standing.

2. Sit and reach 


Similar to the standing toe touch, but this lets you hold the position longer for a deeper stretch. There’s also less stress on the discs if you have an issue there. 

How to perform

  • Sit on the floor with your legs just wider than hip-width apart. You can also perform this with your feet together (whatever is more comfortable for you).
  • Forward fold from your hips and reach out in front of you.
  • Keep your neck soft and keep the movement slow and controlled. 
  • Hold for a few seconds.

3. One leg hamstring stretch 


Super focused on just lengthening hamstrings, without low back or sciatic nerve tension. If this is your weak spot, focus on this stretch. 

How to perform

  • Get a chair or something that you can rest your foot on comfortably.
  • Place one foot slowly on the chair. Keep your other leg straight.
  • Hinge forward from the hips whilst keeping your spine straight.
  • Hold stretch for a few seconds before repeating on opposite leg.

4. Cat cow


Best way to keep your low back flexible without overloading your discs. Dr. William Brady finds this motion limited in 85% of back pain patients. It’s very important to keep this range of full motion. 

How to perform

  • Begin in tabletop position, on your hands and knees.
  • Slowly draw your navel toward your spine and drop your head in the process.
  • Round your spine slowly, bringing your tailbone up.
  • Hold for a few seconds before returning to tabletop.

5. Good morning


This exercise will help you maintain flexibility by strengthening your spine in neutral, while engaging the glutes and hamstrings.

How to perform

  • Start with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Hinge forward from the hips with a slow and controlled movement. Keep your core engaged.
  • You can rest a light weight on your shoulders, but ensure it’s light.
  • Hold the position for a few seconds before returning back to standing.

Strengthening your lower back

To avoid experiencing lower back pain when stretching, or just in general, you may want to consider exercises to strengthen your back. Healthily’s interactive guide details a lot about back pain and could be a good place to start. 

The Auro app is also home to hundreds of workouts that can help to build muscular strength. Here are five of our favourite exercises: 

1. Deadlifts 


A deadlift is such an important and powerful exercise, that not only trains your bum but also your quadriceps (upper front legs), adductor magnus (inner thigh), soleus (smaller part of your calf muscle), hamstrings (upper back of your legs), gastrocnemius (bigger part of your calf muscle), erector spinae (lower back), upper and middle trapezius (upper and middle neck muscles), levator scapulae (muscle from your jaw to your shoulder), rhomboids (upper inner back muscles right below your neck), rectus abdominis (abs) and lastly your obliques (side abs).

How to perform

There are several deadlift variations but the best for strengthening the lower back would be the straight-leg deadlift. 

  • Start your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Get a weight which is reasonable (not too heavy, not too light).
  • Keep your arms straight and hold the weight. 
  • Slowly hinge forward from the hips, letting the weight travel down towards the floor. Keep your legs straight as you bend. 
  • Once the weight reaches just over your knees, slowly hinge back up from your hips. 
  • Keep your spine straight throughout the whole movement and try and keep your gaze directly forward. Avoid lifting your head or neck. Keep your core engaged as you move to support your back too. 

2. Supermans


Supermans or back extensions are great for your back, especially the lower back. 

How to perform 

  • Lay flat on your stomach on a mat. 
  • Keep your arms stretched out in front of you and your legs straight. 
  • Keep your core engaged and lift both arms and legs off the ground. Keeping just your core area glued to the floor.
  • Hold at the top of the movement for three to five seconds before releasing. 

3. Planks


The good old plank. This is a great one for your whole body but really helps to strengthen your core and spine.

How to perform

  • Lay flat on your stomach on a mat. 
  • Raise your forearms onto the mat, directly beneath your shoulders.
  • Lift your feet up so you’re balancing on your toes.
  • Keep your core engaged, your back flat and avoid any arching around the spinal area.
  • Hold for 10-20+ seconds. 

4. Bent-over row


There are bent-over row variations. Our favourite is the underhand bent-over row, which works the whole back simultaneously. Single-arm bent-over rows or renegade rows are also great if you want to isolate each side and focus more on the areas. However, to ensure you don’t experience any type of imbalance, it’s always best to start with either a barbell or two dumbbells for this exercise.

Again, your weight doesn’t have to be heavy for this. 

How to perform

  • Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  • Hinge forward slightly at the hips. Keep your core engaged and your spine straight. Have a slight bend in your knees.
  • Hold your weight/s so your elbows are in the air and your knuckles face the ground (underhand). 
  • Slowly lift the weights from hip-level to chest-level, keeping your elbows tucked to your sides. 
  • Hold at the top of the movement for a few seconds before repeating. 

5. Upright row 


This is a great exercise for your upper back and in-turn will help alleviate future lower back pain when stretching. 

How to perform 

  • Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  • Hold your weight down in front of you. 
  • Keep your spine straight and core engaged. 
  • Lift the weight slowly up toward your chest and hold for a few seconds before repeating.

The outcome

It’s important that all your muscles support you in the right way. Being able to strengthen your whole body is the key to avoiding lower back pain. 

If you continue to experience lower back when stretching or performing any of the above exercises, please do not try to self-diagnose. Seek medical attention immediately in order not to aggravate your condition further. Build up your exercise slowly after the incident. 

For more help and insight into lower back exercises, download the Auro app and start your 14-day free trial today. You can cancel at any time, no commitment required – just check it out and see whether it works for you!

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