The often-overlooked stretch that can relieve back pain
Just a few minutes of back pain can feel like hours. There are many reasons and conditions that can lead to back pain, which can affect our everyday life by slowing us down and causing constant discomfort.
Improper body alignment has become all too common, with many of us spending hours slouching at our desks. However, regular stretching is one way of loosening our muscles and should become part of our lifestyle to bring about relief from back pain.
Research shows that exercise programmes, such as yoga, that involve stretching tight muscles, can ease moderate to severe low back pain. Best of all, this exercise won’t cost you a cent, and you can do it in the comfort of your home.
If your back pain is keeping you from achieving your best, it’s time to consider incorporating the following stretch into your back pain relief strategy:
The pigeon pose
Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Rinesh Chetty told Health24 that the pigeon pose and its advanced versions are designed to systematically release and stretch the main structures that cause mechanical lower back and leg pain. These structures are:
- The lower lumbar
- Spinesacro-iliac joints
- Hip joints
- Lower limb muscles especially the piriformis
- Sciatic nerve
“Yoga stretches have been adopted by numerous modern medical specialists (physiotherapists, massage therapists and chiropractors) who treat lower back pain and the often associated leg pain due to sciatica (a pinched nerve),” explains Chetty.
Pilates stretches are also recommended to decrease back pain. These are a form of modified yoga which incorporate the traditional religion-based poses into modern movement science techniques, and are being used to improve and reduce mechanical back/joint pain, Chetty adds.
“Many back pain practitioners, including myself, believe in the importance of the development of strength, flexibility, proprioception, muscle balance and symmetry, posture control and body awareness. Pilates and yoga poses like the pigeon are easy 'do-it-yourself' methods to help with back and leg pain.”
There are different variations to this pose, but it’s best to start off with a simple one, especially if you’re a beginner.
How to do a simple pigeon pose:
1. Cross one leg in front of you and extend your back leg.
2. Lean forward and feel the stretch in your hips and thighs.
3. Hold the position for five to ten breaths.
4. Switch legs and repeat as needed.
How often should you do it?
At Dr Chetty’s multidisciplinary back pain practice, his protocol relies greatly on a home exercise programme that incorporates mostly stretches and poses like the pigeon pose. He advises that the pigeon pose stretch be done daily to avoid long-term back pain, as well as relieve an episode of short-term pain.
Poses can also be modified to be done in bed, if needed, says Chetty, and are appropriate for people of most ages.
“It obviously depends on the patient and the severity of the condition, but when it comes to programmes for acute/chronic mechanical lower back, including stretches or poses is always worth a try before considering options like surgery," explains Chetty.
After a gradual progression, you can move on to practicing the king pigeon pose. This pose also opens up the hips and stretches the hip rotators and flexors.
Other simple measures that can relieve back pain include:
- Limiting sitting time
- Maintaining proper posture
- Sleeping on the right mattress
- Leading an active lifestyle – when back pain starts, people often stop exercising altogether, which can can worsen back pain.
Remember, if you're suffering from unremitting pain, which disturbs sleep and interferes with normal daily activities and other aspects of your life, you should see your healthcare practitioner as a matter of urgency.