Back pain is the leading cause of muscle tightness and strain. According to American Chiropractic Association, about 31 million Americans suffer from lower back pain. There are many reasons for back pain including sedentary lifestyle, poor posture, and prolonged sitting, although several diseases and intense activities may also lead to back pain and muscle soreness.(1) Muscle tightness is a very common condition, which people experience in their lifetime. If not addressed then it might lead to postural deformity and decreased range of motion of joint.
There are several therapies to loosen stiff back muscles such as back stretches, back stabilization, back massage, muscle relaxation; however, permanent relief is provided if only the cause of tight muscles is addressed. Regular exercise helps avoid stiff back muscles and it is crucial to warm up before engaging in any exercise as warmth provides muscle elasticity. Muscle warmth can be achieved with a hot bath as well as with sauna.
How Do You Loosen Your Back Muscles?
Stretches: Stretches are the best way to loosen stiff back muscles. It is advisable to start with muscle warming and to stretch various group of muscles and not just the muscles that are stiff. For example, stretching hamstrings along with hip flexors, quadriceps, glutes, adductor and abductor group of muscles.
Hamstring stretches can be done by sitting on the ground with extended legs in front. One leg can be folded, touching the inner thigh of other leg. An attempt should be made to touch the foot with hands and stay in that position for at least 20-30 seconds and then sides should be switched.
Hip flexors can be stretched with the help of kneeling hip flexor stretch. Kneel on the left knee with right knee bent in front making a 90-degree angle and sole flat on the ground. With the spine erect and hips facing forward, leaning forward on the right foot will stretch the hip flexors of the left side. This position should be maintained for 30 seconds and sides switched later.
Back Stabilization: Back muscles can also be loosened with back stabilization. Back stabilization can be achieved with the help of dead bug exercise. It is done by lying flat on the ground and knees bent, feet touching the floor. Legs should be raised by keeping thighs perpendicular and shins parallel to the ground; arms should be stretched by the sides. Right arm should be stretched behind the head along with opposite leg extension and then coming to the starting position. This should be repeated about 15 to 20 times.
Back Massage: Back massage is another way to loosen tight muscles. It can be done with the help of hard foam roller or professional massage therapist. A foam roller is inexpensive and can be bought anywhere from fitness equipment store. It can be placed on the floor under the stiff muscle that needs to be loosened; and one can roll up and down on the foam roller relieving the tightness of stiff muscle. This can be repeated until the stiffness is relieved. Back massage can also be done with a professional massage specialist. They are trained at manipulating muscles and connective tissues to release tension and strain. There are several massages for loosening back muscles. Some people prefer home and self-massage, which can be done by using oil and applying it to the area of concern. Oil is applied with a firm pressure and locating the pressure points, thus relieving pressure from them by massaging the area.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Another way of loosening back muscle stiffness is progressive muscle relaxation (2) in which focus is paid on tension and relaxation of different muscle groups. This has shown to alleviate back pain of some people. If after trying all the above exercises and therapies, there is persistence of back muscle stiffness then it is best to see a doctor or chiropractor for further guidance. Back pain might also be due to several diseases and it will simply not alleviate with just above exercises. They will require approach that is more professional.