If you suffer from acute lower back pain, you may find it too painful to perform many popular stretches designed to alleviate your symptoms.
The seated (or chair) hamstring stretch can help relieve your pain—and unlike many other stretches—it’s gentle on your lower back and great for beginners.
How can tight hamstrings cause lower back pain?
Before we talk about how to perform the seated hamstring stretch, let’s quickly look at how tight hamstrings can lead to lower back pain. There is disagreement on this point, but it's thought that tight hamstrings limit the motion in your pelvis, and this motion is transferred to your lumbar spine region. This in turn increases the overall stress on your lower back.
The seated hamstring stretch
Whether you’re at the office or your home, you can begin the seated hamstring stretch by sitting on the edge of your chair. Once you’re in position, follow these two steps:
- Stretch your right leg out in front of you, with your heel on the floor and your toes pointing back toward your body.
- Make sure you’re sitting up tall—with your shoulders away from your ears—and begin to tilt your pelvis forward. Focus on drawing your belly button toward your thighs during this second step.
Hold this position for 10 seconds, and repeat this process twice with each of your legs.
Advanced seated hamstring stretch
After a week or two of performing the seated hamstring stretch, you may be ready for the more advanced version. The advanced version follows the same two steps above, but adds the following motion:
- As you draw your pelvis forward, fold yourself forward over your right leg. Make sure to keep your spine long during this movement.
- You can have your hands at your waist or on your left leg for stability, but don’t press into your right leg during this movement.
Again, hold this position for 10 seconds, and repeat this process twice with each of your legs.
Regardless of whether you’re doing the basic or advanced version of the seated hamstring stretch, you’ll feel the stretch in the back of your hamstring—and you may also feel it in your calf.
Add heat therapy to make stretching easier
The seated hamstring stretch is designed to be gentle, but if you still feel intense pain you can try applying heat therapy for 15-20 minutes prior to stretching. You'll likely find that the heat therapy has relaxed your muscles, and so it will be easier to do your stretching at that time.
Remember to not get frustrated if you struggle with completing the seated hamstring stretch during your first few attempts. Like most things in life, you will get better with practice.