Leg stretches

Easing your legs can have benefits beyond the legs themselves. Tight hamstrings and/or hip flexors (the top bit of the quads) can pull on your pelvis and contribute to lower back pain.


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Let's start with a warning: your legs can be exquisitely and surprisingly tender. Go easy, start lighter. Don't go over pain level 6 on a scale between 0 and 10, preferably stay well below that. 

You can massage your legs with your forearms. Rest the fleshy part of your forearm on the front of your thigh and relax. Perhaps try another spot. Or move your ankle. Alternatively you can slowly move your forearm towards your knee. Don't go over your knee. Or you can move across the muscle, in this case the quads. Imagine you are giving your quads a stretch sideways. You can go from the inside out, or the outside in. This will feel different depending on your direction. You can also use your forearm to go across the muscles on the outside or inside of your thigh.

In the picture I am using my knee to massage my calf. Be careful, calves can be very tender; mine certainly are. I can move the ankle of my upper leg to move my calf, thus adding intensity. I can also slightly alter the angle of the upper leg, exploring all the tender areas in my calf. Alternatively, I am using the arm rest of my armchair to massage my calf. This is already more intense, as I am using my other leg to add pressure.

You can use a tennis ball on on your inner thighs for trigger point work. Trigger points are these exquisitely tender and knotted spots in our muscles, sometimes the pain radiates out. When you find a trigger point in a muscle hold it for about 12 seconds with a pain level no more that 6 on a scale from 0 to 10. You can do this anywhere, inner or outer thighs, front and back of your legs by lying or or leaning into the tennis ball. I would recommend using a very soft surface (like your bed) if you use a tennis ball on your thighs or the outside of your legs. Leaning onto a wall works well as you can graduate the pressure, as long as you don't mind damage to the wall from the ball.

METs

A very effective body work technique is Muscle Energy Technique, or MET. That name does not tell you much. The essence of this technique is that you use (engage) the muscle in question a little, with about 10% of your strength. At the same time you are resisting that movement. You hold for about 10 seconds, rest, and repeat once or twice. The MET in this image is loosening the quads and the hips flexor. In the image I am trying to lift up my thigh which is resisted by my hand. You can be much more relaxed than I am in this picture.

Leg stretches

This is a series of stretches with your legs up a wall. Having your legs up a wall is a great way to spend some time, it is easy to stretch and gives you energy as the fluid pooled in the legs has an opportunity to join the rest of your circulation. Even when we are fit and well, we tend to have a little bit more fluid in our legs as the day goes on. These stretches can really help with lower back pain.

You can lean your legs against a wall either on the floor (if you can get down and back up), on your bed if it is against a wall, or any soft piece of furniture that is against a wall. If you are doing it on the floor, you need a carpet or yoga matt and a pillow.

Move your bottom really close to the wall, almost up it, while on your side with your legs bent. Find a way of turning unto your back while staying with your bottom close to the wall - a bit of a challenge as you will slide away. Keep your legs bent. Get your head comfortable with a pillow, keep you chin slightly tucked in.

Straighten your legs until you feel a stretch in the back of your legs. Rest, breathe, let your shoulders ease towards the floor/bed. Allow the back of your body to lengthen, don't let your lower back arch. After a little while you may be comfortable to straighten your legs a little more. Again, rest and breathe. Repeat. The next stage is moving your feet and ankles, for best effect nice and slow. You can start with big movements of your toes, get them moving. Then involve your whole foot, scrunch it up and stretch your toes towards your nose. You may feel all this in the back of your legs, do these movements until they feel easy(ish). Now involve your ankles - big circles both directions. Last in this section, pull your feet and toes towards you, in other words,  flex your ankle. You will really feel this in the back of your legs, but it will ease. You can use a towel or an exercise band to make the stretch more intensive.

To stretch buttock, to be precise your piriformis muscle, straighten your legs again and bring the outside of one ankle over your other thigh, so that the leg is bent and out to the side. Bend the leg that is up against a wall more and more until you feel a stretch. Your lower back may lift off the floor. Hold. I find this particular stretch horrible but necessary. Do the other side.

There are many other ways of stretching your hamstrings. If you choose the touching your toes option, be it standing or sitting, be mindful of your lower back and keep your knees unlocked.

There are also lots of ways of stretching your quads.

Here are a few. Stand tall with your lower back in "neutral". Throughout, don't arch your lower back, even though it might be tempting. Do both sides.

Stand on one foot, with your leg unlocked. Have something to hold onto for balance. Get hold of the ankle of the leg to be stretched. Pull your heel towards your bottom until you feel a strong stretch in the front of your thigh. Keep your pelvis straight. Hold. To increase the stretch, rotate your pelvis forward. You can do this stretch lying on your side, stretch the upper leg. You can use a rolled up towel or band if you can't reach.

Stand with your back towards a sofa of a chair with a pillow on the edge of it. Have something to hold onto in front. Place the top of one foot on the sofa/chair behind you. Don't move your pelvis, keep it straight throughout. Now bend your supporting leg until you feel a stretch, hold on if needed. Move in and out of the stretch. If your balance is excellent, you can raise your arms over your head. This is two for the time of of one, one leg stretches, the other is strengthened, and it engages your core - three benefits.

Kneel facing away from a sofa. Put your hands on the sofa and lean back. Now push out your hips and flatten your lower back. Hold. If that is easy for you, put your hands on the floor behind you and lift your hips (after moving away from the sofa). Make sure you don't arch your lower back. This is a good stretch for the quads, hip flexors, top of the feet and arms.

In quad stretches the position of the pelvis can make a big difference. Notice how tilting is affecting the front of the leg you are stretching. Also, keep your pelvis level and resist the temptation to twist.

The next exercise is a MET - Muscle Energy Technique - you can do on yourself. Sit down with your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place one hand in the middle of your thigh. With about twenty percent of your strength attempt to lift up your thigh towards your chest, but hold your leg down with your hand. Hold for about twelve seconds and repeat three times. Do the other leg.

Stand in a doorway, put one arm up the door frame so that your palm reaches as high as you can. Now gently let your hipbone move towards the side with the arm raised, you can let your hand slide on the frame. Don't twist your hips. You should feel a stretch on that side. To increase the stretch stand further away from the side you are leaning towards. If your shoulder is not allowing you to lift your arm up, you can rest the side of your chest against the door frame instead. The pictures shows me without slippers, for more control I would recommend wearing footwear that does not slip.  

To finish, imagine you are a cat that has just woken up. Give yourself a good wriggle and stretch the way only a cat can do. Then find a comfortable position, take a couple of deep breaths and enjoy the rest of your day.



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