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Are Back Injury and Stretch Exercises Good For An Acute Back Injury?


Updated June 13, 2014

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Question: Are Back Injury and Stretch Exercises Good For An Acute Back Injury?
Let's face it, tight muscles likely contribute greatly to your back pain or neck pain. They may even be the cause of your problem entirely. If you've seen a therapist for your spine, chances are she has given you some back injury exercises to do. But what if you're experiencing an acute back injury, or your injury is acting up? Should you stretch? Should you do back injury exercises at all?
Answer: Stretching, range of motion and other back injury exercises are given to back pain patients for a reason. Along with basic body awareness and strengthening exercises like pelvic tilts and glute bridges, stretch exercises may get you primed for more advanced work that will help you further stabilize your back or neck. But hip, shoulder, neck and back stretches also have the potential to irritate the inflamed area. Here are some basic guidelines regarding stretching your acute or flared up spine injury.

Try to Avoid Stretch Exercises at the Location of Your Injury

In general, you shouldn't stretch right at the inflamed area. During the acute phase of a back injury (about the first 24 to 48 hours) your tissues are vulnerable to stresses placed on them. Stretching at this time can further damage your back. If you believe stretching an inflamed area makes you feel better, discuss this with your doctor. Ask her or your physical therapist for suggestions of back injury exercises and/or positions that are relevant to your particular diagnosis.

Stretch-Traction for Certain Kinds of Inflamed Injuries

If you have spinal nerve root irritation or arthritic bone spurs, a bit of traction may be in order. Stretch-traction given by a qualified health provider may increase the space in the intervertebral foramen. If your provider uses this technique on you, be sure to communicate what you feel to her. With stretch traction, it's important not to stress the inflamed area. Working on your spinal alignment with your therapist may yield similar results to traction.

Stretch and Other Back Injury Exercises for Managing Symptoms

You can do some basic things during the course of your day to keep pain out of your body. Moving your body within the limits of the acute phase activity level may help you relieve stress and feel more in control of things. Plus, you'll likely have less pain!

Have you ever gotten that "stuck" feeling in your back, hips and/or shoulders after sitting for a few hours at the computer or behind the wheel? I have. Sometimes it brings on my back pain and other times it just makes my whole body feel sluggish. This feeling is called fluid stasis. Although it's usually benign, it can be a symptom of a medical condition such as fibromyalgia or myofascial pain syndrome. Many people experience the benign version of fluid stasis, and as such, there are simple solutions for it. Taking a break from sitting and instead getting mobile is perhaps the best way to move that feeling out of your muscles and joints. This might include taking a walk, doing breathing exercises or gently doing desk exercises. Or you might invest in a professional back massage (after the first few days). There are also some massage techniques you can do on yourself (also after the first few days have past):

Back Injury Exercises: Your Awareness and Attitude

While back injury and stretch exercises may comprise the lion's share of your back pain prevention or management program, you still need to be aware of how your body responds to what you do. I find that one of the most helpful attitudes injured people can have (but also one of the most challenging to maintain) is to be willing to do less than you think you should. Overdoing it is the cause of many a back and neck re-injury.


Kinser, C., Colby, L.A., Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques. 4th Edition. F.A. Davis Company. Philadelphia, PA. 2002.

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