The Importance of Stretching to Prevent and Manage Back Pain

Posted on 
July 21, 2023

One hundred years ago, someone on a mission to improve their health might have strolled into their local drugstore and purchased a pack of cigarettes. Yes, you read that right – cigarettes. At the time, cigarettes were considered health aids and commonly came with collectible trading cards, sometimes featuring health guidelines and fitness tips, such as stretches you could do in your own home.

While now it’s clear the industry was wrong about the health benefits of cigarettes, these companies were right about one thing – the benefits of stretching. Active stretching is a great way to prevent and manage and manage back pain, one of the most prevalent health issues in the United States.

It’s estimated 80% of adults will develop back pain in their lifetime. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s the third leading cause of doctor visits. To keep you out of a physician’s office, Dr. Thurman Alvey, sports medicine specialist at Forté, recommends active stretching to relieve tightness and improve posture, two common contributors to back pain.

“We spend long periods of time hunched over computer screens,” says Alvey. “Computers are part of how we communicate, but we have to counter their effects on our posture by actively moving more and getting ourselves to sit up straighter.”

Crouching over can also lead to tight hamstrings, another common cause of back pain.

“When you have bad posture, the pelvis tilts, and the hamstrings get tight,” says Alvey. “Even in sports, we often train pushing forward, powering forward. As a society, we don’t spend much time opening the front side of the body and strengthening our back and core.”

Stretching, whether through a few simple exercises or consistent yoga practice, can reduce tension and lengthen muscles, benefiting people of all ages and activity levels.

“More sports teams are incorporating yoga at the collegiate and professional levels,” says Alvey, who emphasizes that when it comes to yoga, there’s no one-size fits all. Alvey says yoga can be the focus of an active recovery day or included in an existing warm-up or cooldown routine.

“It’s a good workout, but someone doesn’t have to take a 90-minute hot yoga class to experience the benefits,” he says. “Even if it’s just a simple downward dog, upward dog, mild flow type of thing – gaining flexibility is key.”

While many things have changed in the 100 years since cigarette cards identified the importance of flexibility, we’re still touting the benefits of stretching, including keeping back pain at bay.

“I’m a firm believer in the benefits of yoga,” says Alvey. “If I had discovered yoga as a high school wrestler instead of at age 35, it would have made a huge difference.”

“We often train to get fast and strong, but we really need to focus on improving flexibility as a preventative strategy to avoid injury,” he says.

These recommendations have been excerpted from Coaches Corner, a free monthly webinar series for coaches, athletic directors and athletic trainers. The series, developed and presented by Forté, in partnership with IHSAA, aims to arm coaching and support teams with helpful information to consider when working with their athletes. Subscribe online so you don’t miss an episode.

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