The human spine is a complex anatomical structure with 33 interlocking bones called vertebrae that hold the spinal cord, and between each vertebra sits a disk that acts as a cushion between the bones. This structure allows us to bend, reach, walk, dance and actively live our lives.
When back pain starts, from a muscle pull or sitting too long in front of a computer, it becomes clear how much we depend on our backs to move freely.
A simple piece of equipment called a back stretcher can help, especially when incorporated into a yoga, stretching or exercise routine. And when we do experience mild back pain, a back stretcher may provide welcome, if temporary, relief.
What Is a Back Stretcher?
A floor back stretcher is a piece of equipment usually made of plastic or wood. It weighs just a few pounds and rests flat on the floor with a rounded portion facing up. You lie on the device on your back, face up, positioning the part of your back you want to stretch over the curve of the stretcher. As you lie on the curve, you should feel a gentle stretching sensation in your back.
Health Benefits of a Back Stretcher
There’s very little clinical research on the health benefits of using a back stretcher specifically, but there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that stretching can improve back pain. When used properly, a back stretcher can be a helpful addition to your stretching routine.
A study of nurses in Taiwan who work on their feet most of the day showed that stretching regularly improved their back pain. Meanwhile, a 2016 study in the journal Healthcare reported that an exercise regimen including stretching can increase range of motion for the spine, which makes it easier to do normal daily activities.
Using equipment to stretch back muscles can help back pain. One study in the journal Work found that becoming more active and doing exercises with minimal equipment, such as rolling the lower back over a hard ball on the floor, can effectively alleviate lower back pain. A back stretcher, which covers a larger part of the back than a ball, can also provide relief.
Who Should Use a Back Stretcher?
People experiencing low-grade, chronic pain that doesn’t require surgery, according to their physician, may benefit from using a back stretcher to relieve discomfort or pain.
“Back pain is a very common problem for everyone,” says Dr. Shamie. “About 90% of people will experience low back pain at some point in their lifetime.” Luckily, it typically goes away on its own if it’s not related to an accident, lifting a heavy object or an illness, he adds.
But if the pain doesn’t go away or you can’t identify the cause, consult your doctor before trying to treat it yourself.
What to Consider When Buying a Back Stretcher
Here are a few factors to consider about back stretchers when looking to purchase one.
Do you want to use a back stretcher as part of your stretching or yoga routine, to mitigate stiffness after hours of sitting at work or to relieve occasional back pain? Since back stretchers aren’t usually an expensive piece of equipment, they can be worth trying for any of these reasons. But if you have severe or unexplained back pain, be sure to check with your doctor before purchasing a back stretcher.
Many back stretchers are flexible and can be adjusted to different arch heights. Using an adjustable back stretcher at the lowest arch position can give the feel of a back stretch for beginners and can be increased to fit your comfort level.
Back stretchers made of wood are sturdy but typically not adjustable.
Back stretchers typically weigh between 1.5 and 3 pounds. Though they vary in size, common dimensions are roughly 14 inches long and 10 inches wide. If you have a wide back, you might want to look for a stretcher with a greater width.
Back stretchers are small enough to store under your bed, in a closet or keep handy in your home workout or yoga space.
Back stretchers are sleek and simple—you don’t need any batteries, lights or apps to make them work. They’re designed with a rectangular base that sits on the floor and a curved top portion that faces up. Some versions are made with little nubs that press into your back as you lie on them, providing a gentle massage sensation. Most back stretchers are made of plastic and come in black, blue or gray color options, but wood versions are available, too.
Although back stretchers only weigh a few pounds, they are built to hold bodies that weigh a few hundred pounds. On the lower end, back stretchers can safely support 220 pounds, and more durable options can handle more than 300 pounds. Look for maximum weight capacity information on product packaging or on the manufacturer’s website before buying.