Back extensions are a popular exercise for back pain. In a gym setting, they’re helpful for building strength in your back, but at home and in yoga they can often be recommended for relieving lower back pain or sciatica, specifically disc injuries. There is a very common exercise that is frequently recommended, but we’ll also share with you today our version to help you stretch out your spine much more effectively.

Who would back extensions be helpful for?

If you have lower back pain, experience pain or sensations such as pins and needles, burning or weakness that travels down the back of either leg, perhaps also into the feet, you may benefit from incorporating back extensions into your everyday life. This kind of problem is often known as sciatica. Rather than a condition in its own right, sciatica is a sign of something deeper going on at the base of the nerve in the lower back, most commonly it is a disc bulge that is compressing that nerve, causing the symptoms to travel. Addressing the lower back is going to be the way to relieve those leg symptoms, so back extensions are often recommended as a way to help restore the lower back curve. However, we find that back extensions are not always suitable for everyone, rather our towel stretch that we very often recommend is a fantastic way to gently perform an at home spinal decompression to relieve the pressure from the structures in the lower back, and specifically take the pressure off the discs on both the front and the back of the spine.

What Is The McKenzie Technique?

The most commonly recommended back extension exercise comes from the McKenzie Method, this is a method of diagnosing lower back pain and a series of exercises. This stretch does resemble the cobra stretch in yoga, although it is very common in yoga to want to take this kind of stretch to the end of your range of motion. Although it can be helpful, using a towel stretch instead, which we’ll be going into more detail about below, can make the stretch a whole lot more effective at dealing with disc issues in the spine. If you’re doing this type of stretch, make sure you’re building up to the stretch gradually, holding for 30 seconds at a time and building up for 1 minute as it starts to feel more comfortable. A lot of people when they do this stretch try to prop themselves up on the hands, which can make the extension deeper. However, this is not helpful and it’s important not to over-extend your back if you do have back pain. Instead, keep your forearms on the floor and push up in this way.

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With this technique, if you do have any kind of instability or fracture in your spine, it may well be one to stay away from, which is why we’ve recommended the towel stretch below. Instability in the form of conditions known as retrolisthesis or spondylolisthesis/anterolisthesis are all ones you should be wary of if you are doing this type of stretch, as it can cause you more pain. Likewise, if you have a spinal stenosis affecting the lateral recesses of your spine, these are little holes at the back of the spine where nerves travel in and out, you may want to be more wary as this type of stretch can potentially close up those little holes even more. Furthermore, you may also risk irritating the facet joints, as unlike the towel stretch, the McKenzie stretch does only take the pressure off the front portions, not the back ones where the facets are.

Why Is The Towel Stretch More Beneficial?

A stretch that we often recommend to all of our patients, as well as being an integral part to our Back In Shape membership area, which you can sign up to for free, is the towel stretch. The exercise involves taking a towel, rolled up to about the size of a foam roller and lying on it, with the towel placed in the small of the back about an inch upwards of the dimples visible in your lower back. Relaxing on the towel for around 3-5 minutes while dealing with first instances of back pain is going to be beneficial, as is using it as a maintenance treatment if you’ve suffered with back pain in the past or find it flares after a long day at work, in the garden or after playing sports or going for a run. Because you’re lying on top of the towel, it acts as a pivot point for your spine to essentially stretch over. This means that the length of your spine slightly extends, a decompression effect takes place and for those few minutes, the discs and muscles experience a lessening in load.

The towel stretch we recommend is much more effective as you’re lying down on the towel. This uses the towel like a fulcrum to actually lengthen the spine and decompress. This can take the pressure off your discs and muscles in your spine, you can relax in the position for around 3-5 minutes for the most benefit. This can be good as a regular treatment method if you are suffering with disc bulges, or for the management of a problem if you feel you sometimes irritate your back when out for a run or from being in the garden. This kind of exercise is going to be beneficial for everyone, but those who are struggling with their back pain might find it to be uncomfortable for the first week. It should soon settle down though once you’ve been doing it consistently for a few days. The process of healing is always trying to take place in your body, which can be a strange concept if you’ve been struggling with back pain for a number of weeks, months or years as it just doesn’t seem like it’s healing. However, this towel stretch helps to create an environment of decreased pressure to help allow the natural, necessary healing process to take place. So not only should it feel relieving at the time, it should also be helpful long-term.

We hope you found today’s article helpful if you are struggling with back pain and considering using back extensions to help with the symptoms. If you’re not sure exactly how to rehabilitate your back pain, or the measures you’ve been using so far have not worked for you, please do go ahead and check out our free membership area at Here we give you guidance on how to relieve back pain with targeted stretching, mistakes you may be making at home, as well as opportunity to join our premium section for continued strengthening.

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