If you are contending with discomfort of back pain, you are not alone. According to Statistics Canada, back problems are among the most common chronic conditions in our nation, with four out of five adults experiencing at least one episode of back pain in their lives. Conditions such as sciatica and degenerative disc disease can be the causes of pain, but the cause of back pain is not identified in 85-95 percent of people. Factors such as poor muscle tone, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, poor posture and improper lifting can be culprits contributing to back pain. Statistics Canada also shares that there is evidence that chronic stress and depression can be responsible for back pain. In this current season of our lives, where many of us are experiencing stress and even depression, taking time to look after ourselves is more important than ever. With your doctor’s permission, stretching is an important tool to add to your self care toolkit for not only physical but mental wellbeing.
Our spines are made of vertebrae; discs; spinal cord and nerves; muscles; joints; ligaments and tendons. It is an incredibly complex set up, and designed to support the bulk of our body weight. All of the parts work together to move us. This is why it is vital to keep our backs in excellent working order. Stretching keeps muscles and ligaments flexible, reduces stress on our joints and promotes the effective movement of blood and nutrients throughout our body. Without stretching, our bodies become stiff, and our movements can be reduced. Things can become pretty painful! Pain can increase to the point where our daily activities become difficult, and we start to lose our range of motion. This leaves us ripe for further injury and aggravation. It is an important, but often overlooked part of a fitness routine, and everyone, from athletes to newbies, can benefit. For individuals with back pain, stretching is particularly important even though activity is often the last thing we desire when we are in physical or emotional discomfort. Tight muscles can lead to a decrease in our range of motion. When this happens, we increase the likelihood of straining the muscles in our back, which, in turn, can result in back pain and further injury.
A regular stretching program will gradually increase your flexibility which is an important factor in overall fitness. Flexibility helps us to complete our everyday activities with ease. As we age, flexibility through stretching helps keep our muscles from shortening, which slows the reduction in mobility which can eventually lead to an episode of back pain, or even a chronic condition. Without actively lengthening muscles, they will tighten up, this is really important if you have had muscle strain or injury. Along with preventing tightness in your muscles, stretching prevents tightness in your joints and nerves improving circulation to all of these areas, reducing aches and pain and providing comfort to your back.
Have you ever heard someone say they have to stretch to get their blood flowing – particularly when they rise in the morning? Stretching gets blood and nutrients flowing throughout the body. This is a wonderful way to prepare yourself for the tasks of the day leaving you more limber and refreshed. You might think of it as feeding those structures which are vital to the health of your back. This is also what makes stretching a perfect way to begin and end aerobic exercise as it helps prevent muscle strain and soreness and ultimately helps avoid injury.
A stretching program performed even 2-3 times per week will produce benefits over time. Starting slowly and building with a program that allows steady progress suited to your own specific needs is key to an effective stretching practice. If you are new to stretching, or have chronic back pain, increasing your flexibility may take some time. Use small improvements as motivation, and look forward to seeing and feeling a difference even if it takes months to achieve. Picturing your body as flexible and pain free while stretching may be encouraging. Patience and consistency is key to achieving increased flexibility optimum mobility and greater control over your body - it is worth it, and your back will thank you!
Think of stretching as not only a way to improve your physical back health, but also a way of relaxing the tension which tends to settle in your back. Our muscles tend to tighten up during times of physical and emotional stress. Stretching can ease your tensed back muscles and help alleviate some of the pain. Stretching with a family member or joining a friend in a We Stretch challenge is a great way to have fun with a stretching program. Stretching with the We Stretch App is an activity that can be performed at home with no special equipment, it can be enjoyed in the smallest apartments and even on your back deck in the fresh air (great entertainment for your neighbors to watch while they stay at home).
Of course, please speak to your doctor before starting a stretching program, especially if you have had back surgery recently. If you notice pain past the normal tension of stretching, consult your doctor as this could indicate an injury. Ensure that you are performing stretches to the point of tension, never pain. Do not bounce while stretching and ensure that you are not holding your breath. Inhale before each stretch and exhale after. Most importantly, incorporate stretching into your daily routine in a way that works for you. This will help ensure that you both enjoy and continue stretching. We Stretch can help make stretching convenient and fun, and provides coaching tailored to your specific needs. Here’s to bringing healthy back!