So what are lower back stretchers ? Back stretchers are devices that help to elongate the spine. They help to stretch out the spine by reducing the vertical force of gravity acting to squish the intervertebral discs.
The spine is constantly under the pressure of the gravity and is being pulled down every second you are either standing or sitting in a chair. The spine is made up of vertebrae. In fact there are 33 vertebrae in the human body which include
- 7 cervical
- 12 thoracic
- 5 lumbar
- 5 sacral
- 4 coccygeal
Out of these the lumbar vertebrae make up the lower spine. The lumbar vertebrae are the biggest of all the groups I mentioned earlier and are under the greatest stress. The vertebrae contain intervertebral discs between them which are like soft cushion to dampen any forces exerted vertically along the spine. Under the force of gravity the discs are constantly squished throughout the day.
The image above gives a great presentation. Nucleus pulposus is the inner jelly like substance while annulus fibrosus is the outer fibrous coat of the intervertebral disc. You can also see the intervertebral foramina. These are holes through which the nerves of the body leave the spinal cord. As you can imagine if you squish the intervertebral discs they flat out like a pancake. But when you flat out by pressing in the vertical direction the diameter of the disc will increase. This increased diameter of the disc is not usually a good thing as it may start impinging on the nerves leaving through the foramina. This can cause pain, tingling, loss of sensation in the legs, decreased motor strength depending on the severity.
How do lower back stretchers help ?
Back stretchers create an arc that aligns with the natural curve of the spine. This returns the spine to its natural position and undoes the action of gravity on the intervertebral discs. When the spine returns to an arc the vertebrae are pushed apart and this allows the intervertebral discs to pump back up. This also occurs during sleep when you lie flat on a bed and in fact it is how the body functions. But in people in whom back pain become a problem and starts interfering with daily activities we can reduce the pressure on the spine by just using a simple device such as a back stretcher to reduce the pressure and improve the pain.
What type of back stretcher should I use ?
There are many back stretchers out there in the market and all of them claim to do wonder. They range from simple cushion rollers to wooden planks to devices that allow you to do an assisted headstand.
But they all have major disadvantages. Cushion rollers don’t provide a natural arc and the Wooden planks don’t have adjustments.
The headstand machines are not recommended especially in the elderly, people with prior episodes of unconsciousness, high blood pressures, previous surgeries, elevated intracranial pressure and many more.
I would recommend to use a simple hard lower back stretcher that is adjustable, with a cushion.
Back stretchers are not suitable if you are pregnant. Also when you are starting out keep the arch to the lowest setting and use a towel as a cushion.
There are some great options available on amazon. Most people skip these and go for higher end devices that either are not suited for them, or may even be contraindicated for them. I have listed three items, choose between these the one you think would be most comfortable for you.
Learn more here.