The 10 Best Back Stretchers
The Importance Of Stretching Your Back
You already know that it feels amazing — but did you know that stretching your back regularly can also help keep you healthy and pain-free?
One thing you should know about your muscles is that all they can do is contract, and as such they come in pairs. For example, your biceps can only pull your lower arm up; then, your triceps extends it back again.
As a result, your body needs to keep its muscle groups relatively balanced. However, in real life, things don't always work out this way. If you keep performing repetitive movements — like rounding your shoulders or slouching — then some muscles will get over-worked while others are neglected. Over time, this can even lead to certain muscles getting tighter and shorter.
By stretching your muscles regularly, you keep them flexible and limber, as well as ensuring that nutrient-rich blood flows back into them. If you have pinched nerves, it can also take some of the pressure off, giving you both immediate and long-term relief.
Even better, flexible muscles also have improved range of motion, giving you more freedom in your daily life. You may find that you're better able to perform tasks that you've long struggled with, such as bending, lifting, or even just sitting comfortably.
It's important to note, however, that for best results, stretching can't be an occasional or as-needed activity. If you're hoping to correct a muscle imbalance, it will take regular, dedicated work; after all, you've spent untold hours putting your muscles in a bad position, so it will take some time to undo that damage.
If you commit to a regular stretching routine, you'll be shocked at how much better you can feel in a relatively short amount of time. In fact, it's not a stretch to say that it might be the best decision you ever make on behalf of your body.
Static Vs. Dynamic Stretching
There's some debate as to the best way to stretch. One school of thought believes in holding a stretch in a set position, called "static stretching." Another school believes in "dynamic stretching," which involves moving the muscle through its range of motion.
For a long time, static stretching was the only game in town. However, in recent years, more and more experts are recommending dynamic stretching instead, especially if the goal is to improve athletic performance.
The reason dynamic stretching is preferred by athletes is because holding a muscle in a pose for longer than a few seconds isn't something that's usually needed in sports. Additionally, the movement involved in dynamic stretching raises your core temperature, increases your heart rate, and boosts blood flow — all things that come in very handy during competition.
However, that doesn't mean that static stretching is worthless. After all, we're not all athletes, and reversing the effects of sitting at your desk all day doesn't require the same amount of effort as preparing for a triathlon.
Static stretching is an excellent way to end your workout, as well, as it helps keep your muscles long and limber, as well as enable you to cool down effectively.
Ultimately, you shouldn't view static vs. dynamic stretching as an either-or proposition. Both are extremely useful when done correctly, and both have a place in your wellness routine.
How To Stretch Your Back Effectively
Stretching feels fantastic — until you do it incorrectly and pull a muscle. With these tips in mind, however, you should be able to get all of the benefits with none of the cramps.
Before you begin, you should do a little bit of warm-up. This can be as simple as light aerobic activity, or you can do some joint rotations. The idea is to get the blood flowing to your muscles and joints so that you don't push them too far before they're ready.
Also, you should know that your pain might not just be limited to your back. Many times, back pain can be caused by tense hip flexors, which can pull on your lower back and cause imbalances. Additionally, if you have upper back pain, it could be caused by rounding your shoulders — and that could be caused by overly-tight pectoral muscles.
This means that you'll likely have to stretch your entire body, rather than simply focusing on the problem areas.
However, if you just want to stretch your back, there are a variety of ways you can do it. Back stretchers can release tension on your entire spine or focus solely on one aspect or another, depending on what you desire at the time. Foam rollers are also great for working out knots and increasing flexibility.
Most stretches will focus on lengthening the spine, which is especially useful if you sit slouched over a desk all day. For your upper back, that will mean standing up straight, and using your arms to give you additional extension. For your lower back, meanwhile, rounding and curving your lumbar will be the name of the game.
Don't bounce at any point in the stretch, as that can add undue strain on your tendons. Also, listen to your body — if it hurts, don't do it. Pushing your body too far is a great way to cause an injury that stretching can't fix.
Don't forget to breathe, either. Take deep, slow breaths, so that your muscles will be flooded with oxygen. This can also help you relax mentally as well as physically.
Beyond that, the main thing is to stretch often and consistently. If it's easier for you, break up your day with a few minutes of stretching, rather than trying to cram it all into one session. Nothing feels more refreshing than a good stretch after staring at a computer screen for hours at a time.