Having worked as a physical therapist in a sports medicine clinic for years, I've successfully treated many athletes dealing with back pain. And as a mountain biker and road cycler, I've dealt with my fair share of back pain as well.
The beauty of the human body is that it is always working to repair and restore tissue, and everything is connected. Sometimes, though, we just need to give it a little boost to get the connections all lined up nicely and flowing well.
What exercise science and human physiology tells us is that as we age, we lose elasticity and pliability in fascia, the ligaments and tendons that attach the muscles to our bones. This isn't something that happens overnight, but every day you spend sitting at your nine-to-five job, your hips are getting tighter, your fascia less mobile, and your back less flexible.
So, how do we fix this? Well, to a certain extent we can't undo sitting. Or aging, for that matter. We can't stretch for as many hours of the day as we sit. However, we need to realize that for most of us, our day is spent hunched forward. Our ancestors did not live like this.
They moved, they ran, they foraged. We sit. We are more sedentary than we are active these days, and stretching some key muscle groups can help to mobilize tissue and restore some healthy flexibility in our hips, spine, and pelvis.
So, if you want to keep your back healthy and mobile, here are three stretches you can do every single day. Make sure to hold each stretch for 1 to 2 minutes on each side.
Hip Flexor Kneeling Stretch
These are huge muscles. The more we sit flexed, the shorter, stiffer, and tighter they become. You can do this stretching in a kneeling lunge as shown or in a standing position. This stretch can dramatically help the lower back by opening up the hips and taking pressure off the spine where these big muscles attach.
Glute/Piriformis Supine Stretch
Glutes are a powerful, fast-moving muscle group. They often get tight with sports, and prolonged sitting can cause you to develop tighter glutes and stiffer hips. Whether your sit all day or you're a CrossFit fanatic, your glutes are probably tight and need some attention.
This figure 4 stretch is my go-to because the back is in a safe position and not at risk for overstretching or any excessive mobility. Lie on your back, and the figure 4 should be enough to feel a significant stretch.
Midback Foam Roll
This is the part of your spine from the top of your shoulder blades to the bottom of the ribs. In most people, this part of the back is quite stiff and immobile. The foam roller is more about mobilizing tissue than actually stretching in the classic sense.
Start by rolling up and down your midback for about 1 to 2 minutes, focusing on areas that feel tighter. It should feel like a gentle massage to your back muscles.