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Will Improving Spinal Flexibility help with Low Back Pain?

It is a common assumption that those with the best flexibility are the least prone to pain, but this isn’t the case.

Stu McGill, a spine researcher out of Canada, says when you are looking at spinal muscle strength, spinal muscle endurance, and spinal flexibility, muscle endurance is the most predictive of low back pain. Improving spinal muscle endurance has a protective effect on the spine, which can prevent low back pain. McGill also notes that improved spinal mobility/flexibility is associated with an increased risk of a low back injury. 

Why would this be the case? Improved spinal flexibility results in a decrease in spinal stability and most significant low back injuries occur as a result of either loss of a stable spine while lifting a heavy object or excessive spinal movement with repetitive, low load activities. So, when it comes to preventing low back pain, we should be focusing on improving spinal stability/muscular endurance rather than flexibility. 

“If it hurts and it feels tight, stretch it.” There is nothing inherently wrong with stretching the lower back. The problem occurs when this becomes a long-term pain management strategy. Does this mean you should not stretch at all? No. You will get more out of your stretching routine if you know what areas to stretch.  

Most people with low back pain have tightness in the shoulders, mid-back, or hips, which often contribute to their back pain. A good rule to remember is this: Just because it hurts, doesn’t mean it needs to be stretched. People with low back pain benefit more from stretching their hips or whatever is causing the stress on the low back rather than stretching the low back itself. 

Another thing worth considering is that not everyone with pain needs to stretch. For example: if you are someone who can bend forward and put your palms on the floor, but you have pain when bending to pick something up, you would likely benefit from strengthening rather than stretching.  


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