"Why Don't My Usual Stretches Help My Back Pain?"

Like many health conditions, low back pain is a chronic problem. Patients with low back pain typically suffer on and off for years. Back pain seems to come on when we overexert or do something out of the ordinary, such as moving boxes or when returning to a sport we have not tried since our high school days.

Both the weekend warrior and the daily athlete will attest to the benefits of stretching prior to engaging in a physical activity as a means to help prevent injury. But stretching is typically not a good treatment plan in the face of back pain. Why is that? Why is something so effective for preventing a problem and yet so completely useless as a cure? However, some patients are lucky. Through trial and error, they may find that the stretching actually causes their back pain to get better. But over the years, its effectiveness diminishes. Some patients will say that their normal pre-activity stretches actually make the pain worse.

Stretching is designed to lengthen muscles and tendons, but back problems typically affect the ligaments and the disks.  So while stretching may help a tight muscle, its affect on ligaments can be detrimental as the ligaments may already be overstretched, which can allow the bones to creep into abnormal positions.

Another factor to consider is that the delicate nerves of the lower spine cross the disk areas. With stretching, those nerves can lengthen and become even more irritated.

If you find that your normal stretches seem to have no effect on your pain or even make the pain worse, then that is a sign the ligaments have been damaged. Stretching will not help in this scenario and you will need to consult a doctor of chiropractic who can then perform an examination of the ligaments and disks.

The adjustments that chiropractors perform are designed to align the bones of the spine so that the ligaments do not remain stretched-out, producing pain. Over weeks, the bones begin to hold their normal position for longer periods of time and gradually the ligaments begin to shorten.

Your doctor can also advise you on stretches that lengthen the muscles but do not cause further stretch to the already damaged ligaments of the lower spine.