Orthopedic Back Stretchers: Are They Worth It?

There are over 850,000 office workers currently employed in the United States. Sitting at a desk in the same position for several hours a day can have negative effects on your posture. Joints can stiffen and key muscle groups can become under-used. Let’s have a look at whether or not orthopedic back stretchers may help you.

Key takeaways:
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    An orthopedic back stretcher is a tool which claims to help elongate the spine and loosen muscles in the back. They can be used on the floor or on your car seat or chair.
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    If you are recovering from injury, work at a desk, or want to gain more flexibility in your spine, you may benefit from an orthopedic back stretcher.
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    In some cases, back stretchers can reduce pain, take away stress and load in the spine, improve posture and movement.
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    They have adjustable levels. Make sure yours is at the right setting for you.
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    If you have a medical condition, disc prolapse or specific back injury, you should avoid using orthopedic back stretchers.

Certain postural habits can be formed over time, such as by constantly looking down at device screens. Sitting in static positions for prolonged amounts of time, carrying a heavy bag, and having underactive muscles can also affect your posture.

Many tools have been developed over the years claiming to help improve posture, back pain, and spinal flexibility. In this article, we will discuss whether these tools are
safe and useful or whether are they marketed well by companies for financial gains.

Orthopedic back stretchers – do they actually work?

An orthopedic back stretcher can help where there is an element of compression as the cause of your symptoms.

For example, if you lack flexibility in your spine and often feel stiff, a back stretcher can help to improve your spinal movement, whilst creating space within your joints. Improving spinal movement can prevent inflammation in the discs which is a potential root cause of pain. In these cases, back stretchers can be very useful when used under supervision.

However, they are not a quick fix and they do not take into account a person's posture, strength, history of injury or lifestyle choices. These are all important factors in determining whether or not an orthopedic back stretcher will benefit you or not.

Are orthopedic back stretchers safe?

Yes, orthopedic back stretchers are safe, but there are some key points to consider to ensure safety. Positioning is important, so be mindful how you are getting on and off the stretcher. Start on the ‘low’ level to ease yourself in, and you can increase the level if needed.

If you have a medical condition, prolapsed disc or specific back injury, avoid using a back stretcher until you are advised it’s safe to do so by a medical professional.

Benefits of orthopedic back stretchers

If used correctly, orthopedic back stretchers can provide the following benefits:

  • Flexibility. May help to increase flexibility in the spine and improve posture;
  • Stress. Decreases load and stress on the spine;
  • Breathing. Can help to open out the ribcage, which encourages deeper breathing in the lungs, providing more oxygen to your blood, helping to boost your mood and mental wellbeing;
  • Self-care. Can be part of a self-care routine at the end of a long day to help de-stress the mind and improve sleep;
  • Relaxation. Gravity does the work so you can relax without any effort, similar to a restorative yoga pose.

How to use an orthopedic back stretcher

It is important to introduce a back stretcher gradually into your routine. Begin with sessions lasting a few minutes. You could add this into your routine three times a week and build up the frequency to accommodate your needs. Always listen to your body as everyone's needs are different.

Here's how to start using the orthopedic back stretcher:

  • Position yourself. Lie on your back in a semi-supine position with your feet under your knees. Arms are long beside your body. Make sure your stretcher is beside you within reach;
  • Move the stretcher. Engage your core and lift your hips up into a bridged position so your glutes are off the ground then slide your stretcher underneath your back and relax back down. Make sure the middle of the stretcher is in line with your belly button. This should support the natural curvature of your spine;
  • Relax. Stay here for a few minutes, or increase the duration over time depending on how you feel. Prop a pillow under your head if you need extra support. Focus on your breath.

Best orthopedic back stretcher to buy

It can feel overwhelming to know where to start when looking for an orthopedic back stretcher as there are so many options on the market. Make sure you are purchasing from a trusted company and be sure to read the reviews. Look for an orthopedic stretcher that has acupressure nodes, adjustable levels, a memory foam pad for extra comfort, and a soft spinal strip for support.

Can an orthopedic back stretcher improve posture?

If you have mild kyphosis in the thoracic spine (forward rounding of the upper spine and shoulders), or lack flexibility in your lumbar spine, an orthopedic back stretcher may be very useful to improve posture.

However, there are also other options that may potentially get you similar effects, such as using a folded pillow or doing a cat-cow stretch to restore your lumbar curve.

While back stretchers may provide relief to your symptoms, they are not a quick fix. Strength and conditioning exercises such as pilates will provide you with many more benefits long term.

Using your orthopedic back stretcher while also having a consistent movement routine can be complementary, but your results may be limited if you are using the stretcher as a solo tool.

Consult a healthcare professional before use!

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