Why Stretching Is Making The Pain Worse (And what to do instead)

Are you getting lower back pain after stretching? I know it can feel confusing.

You’re using stretching to get relief, but you actually end up with more back pain after stretching.

In this post, we’ll look into why stretching hasn’t been providing you with long-term relief or making lower back pain worse.

Lower back pain after stretching

Stretching has so many restorative benefits. But, it’s not unusual to experience lower back pain right after static stretching.

If you’re suffering from chronic lower back pain, stretching should be used intelligently especially when dealing with symptoms such as sciatica or hip pain.

It’s important to read through this post to understand how to effectively stretch without triggering pain.

I’ll give you a few suggestions on how to effectively stretch including video tutorials.

Why Is Stretching Making My Back Pain Worse?

Stretching the muscles around the lumbar spine area can aggravate lower back pain. Here’s why…

The lumbar spine region needs stabilization more than mobilization.

The stabilizing muscles tend to be weak due to our sedentary lifestyle.

Muscles such as the transverse abdominis and multifidus are deep abdominal muscles that act like a supportive belt around your spine.

Stretching lengthens the muscles. If a muscle is weak and lengthened, stretching just pulls the muscle even more…leading to more weakness.

Back hurts after stretching

There are a few stretches that are helpful in reducing lower back pain, but they’re not focused on the lower back area.

If you’ve injured or pulled a muscle, you should refrain from stretching to avoid further damaging the muscle (1).

The muscle tissue is very sensitive to triggers and overstretching the muscle can lead to more pain and damage.

Related: when to apply ice vs heat to a new injury.

Stretching And Types Of Muscles

Tonic muscles which are prone to overactivity and tightness, and phasic muscles which are more likely to weaken and lengthen.

Here’s a short list of these muscles:

back muscles

Stretching becomes an issue when more time is spent stretching the phasic muscles, such as the glutes and lower back muscles (which are more likely to weaken due to our sedentary lifestyle)…

…And less time releasing the tonic muscles, such as the hip flexors complex, which can get extremely tight and drive the hips out of balance. 

It’s important to stretch only the muscles that need to be stretch and stabilize and strengthen the ones that are weak.

Is The Muscle Really Tight?

I know you may be thinking “but my glutes and hips feel tight all the time, are you saying I shouldn’t stretch them?”.

And let me quickly answer that…

When the glutes or piriformis muscle feels tight, it doesn’t mean it’s actually short and needs stretching.

A sore muscle can be either short and tight or long and weak. So the fact it feels sore doesn’t tell you it’s indeed short and requires stretching.

Muscles behave like a rubber band when it comes to extensibility.

When you release the muscle with stretching (lengthening), it’ll always return to its original length.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be stretching at all.

Stretching has its place. It relaxes the nervous system, improves range of motion, and can be used to restore proper alignment.

Is stretching making pain worse

What I’m saying is…

When you’re experiencing pain and you’re using stretching to fix the pain, you need to first figure out if the muscle you’re stretching is shorter than its normal length.

Stretching shouldn’t be used as a treatment to fix the pain, but more as a tool.

This can be identified through static posture and movement assessments.

You can also just refer to the list of phasic and tonic muscles (2) to get an idea about which ones are more inclined to tighten.

If a muscle is already weak and elongated, you’re only creating more weakness by further elongating the muscle through stretching.

This results in joint instability, and more pain in the long-run.

The relief you get from stretching is induced by the stretch reflex and that’s why it’s very short-lived.

Don’t make the mistake of stretching mindlessly and chasing that temporary relief.

You can be doing more harm than good if you haven’t assessed the source of the muscle imbalance first and you’re not sure which muscles you should be stretching.

Why Relief Is Only Temporary

When you stretch a muscle, the stretch reflex kicks in to prevent the muscle from tear and injury.

This is why the effect of static stretching doesn’t last long. And as you’ve probably noticed, the muscle starts to tighten up shortly after.

Too much stretching can weaken the muscle’s ability to contract and that’s why it is recommended to not perform static stretching before exercise.

Stretching has its place for sure as I explained a little while ago.

But, if you have chronic muscular pain, I highly recommend you start digging a little deeper and look beyond the temporary fixes you’re getting from it.

Start assessing for postural and muscular weaknesses that are causing the pain. When your muscles have the right tension, you’ll be able to maintain muscle balance (3).

How To Effectively Stretch Your Muscles

I’m going to share with you a couple of tutorials soon. But I just want to take a few moments to explain the difference between mobility and stability.

You’ve probably heard these terms before.

And to get the most out of stretching and avoid creating weakness and instability, it’s important to understand which joints need more mobility and which need more stability…

Joint Mobility vs Stability

The joints in our bodies are all working in synch because the body is a kinetic chain. The shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint), for example, is the most mobile joint in the human body.

Other joints like the elbow and knee joints need support and stability.

These joints will alternate in movement as we move up from one joint the next:

  • Ankle (mobility)
  • Knees (stability)
  • Hips (mobility)
  • Lower back (stability)
  • Shoulders (mobility)
  • Neck (stability)

You need to keep this in mind when stretching the muscles attached to these joints.

If a joint is designed to be more mobile, then chronically tight muscle around that joint will restrict motion and proper movement.

Adding load (weight and pressure) will easily lead to injury.

Stretching And Strengthening

You need to always balance stretching with proper strengthening.

If you’re always stretching ALL of your muscles (lengthening all of your muscles), you’ll risk developing multiple muscular imbalances, and weakening the muscles that need to support and stabilize the joints they are associated with.

I know this may feel like a lot of information. Save this post so you can review it again if needed.

I always try to simplify things as much as possible. My goal is to educate you so you know what you’re doing at home.

But if you have questions or aren’t sure about anything, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment below.

Now, I want to share a few tutorials with you…

Helpful Muscle Release Tutorials

Below you’ll find a couple of helpful tutorials and a recent video that includes 4 stretches for lower back pain that won’t make the pain worse!

4 Chair Stretches For Sciatica, Lower Back Pain Relief, And Hip Pain

Join The Back Pain Bootcamp


Clark, M., Lucett, S., & Sutton, B. G. NASM essentials of corrective exercise training. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning

Coach Sofia
    • I don’t perform PT on people (manual massage therapy or physiotherapy work). I have a degree in science. I’m a certified Corrective Exercise Specialist. It’s my job to design corrective exercise programs to fix muscular imbalances that can lead or have lead to injuries to help people feel functional again. I’m also certified as a strength coach. All I write about is well within my area of expertise and scope of practice. In addition to my own personal experience fixing muscular pain.

  • Hi there,

    I’ve had chronic back pain for years with occasional bad back spasms, usually 1-2 times a year.

    I’ve been doing Physio for about 2 months now and seeing slight improvements. I was confused as to why the therapist has only included the stretch for my hip flexors but after reading this article I understand.

    I also have a decent lateral pelvic tilt where my left hip is hiked up and from my research it’s commonly recommended to stretch and release my QL but that seems to usually just aggravate my back. Do you think I just need to build up strength first?

    Thanks for the great articles!

  • I have been experiencing pain in my hip that rotates to my buttocks. I have always walked and now I can’t walk or ride my bike due to the exruciating pain.. will these exercises help?

  • I need some advise about what exercises are recommended to do besides stretching. It’s waking recommended?
    What excercise machine are good to use in the gym?

    Thank you for your support!

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