McKenzie treatment for low back pain
One of the biggest misconceptions that we come across with our patients is that they believe their hamstring "tightness" is causing their low back pain and that stretching their hamstrings will fix it. While stretching your hamstrings can sometimes feel good or may seem like the appropriate treatment for a low back injury, often times it is not. If you're one of these patients, you're not to blame. This misinformation is still spread widely throughout the internet as a great way to relieve back pain.

The Disc

The discs in-between each vertebrae allow your spine to bend and twist. While these structures allow for you to be mobile, certain parts of you spine are designed to be more stable. Your low back, (lumbar spine), is one of these stable regions. In fact, often times our lumbar discs have a difficult time holding up to stress when we flex (bend forward) and twist too often -especially under load- due to the pressure inside of the disc. These movements can irritate the annular fibers (outer section) or cause the nucleus pulposus (fluid inside the disc) to snake its way through the backside of the disc. Mix these with some irritation or inflammation and you potentially have yourself a case of low back pain.
A conservative estimate shows 40% of low back pain being generated from the intervertebral disc. This estimate could easily be higher.

Stretching the Hamstrings

When we stretch our hamstrings, most people typically do a static hold while bending forward or in the hurdler position. This position can actually aggravate the backside of the disc by putting it in a flexed position for an extended period of time.
While this may feel like you're getting a good stretch, you may be doing more harm than good. This increased hamstring tightness could be a neurological response. AKA your body's way of telling you to not bend forward as a way to protect your low back.

A Different Stretch To Try

Sometimes it may be better to bend backwards. By stretching your low back into extension via the cobra yoga pose or repetitive McKenzie press up exercises, you are actually decreasing the pressure within the intervertebral discs.
These simplistic exercises can be better in the right circumstances. At Okanagan Integrative Health, we utilize a series of advanced exercises with progressions tailored to individual needs. As always, consult with your healthcare provider if you are experiencing low back pain.
Dr. Courtney Means

Dr. Courtney Means


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