Do Back Stretchers Actually Work?

If you have back pain, whether chronic or occasional, you aren't alone. According to the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, back pain is one of the most common medical complaints. More than 65 million Americans have experienced an episode of back pain, while around 16 million adults experience chronic back pain. Finding ways to mitigate pain and cultivate spinal health for both people who experience pain and those who don't is an important quest in today's world. There are dozens of methods and tools promoted for decreasing back pain, one of which is a back stretcher. But do back stretchers really work, and are they a good option for everyone?

In the mid-1990s, Neil Summers invented the original wooden back stretcher after experiencing crippling back pain due to a medical condition (via The Guardian). Since then, the back stretcher has given rise to many versions catered to various medical needs. Today, back stretchers are typically arched devices that a person can lay down upon and stretch their spine to a range of motion they wouldn't necessarily obtain on their own, reports The Healthy. "Back stretching devices help to stretch the back, and if done properly and safely, can ultimately help decompress the spine, leading to an improvement in posture and overall health," Todd Sinett, a chiropractor, tells The Healthy. If you're already an avid back-stretcher user or if you're interested in giving the device a try, here's what you should know about the effectiveness and safety of back stretchers.

The ups and downs of back stretchers

Like most back pain treatment methods and other at-home gadgets, back stretchers are a good tool for some people while they can pose a danger to others. The first step — and perhaps the most important — is finding a safe device, especially when there are so many different types of back-stretching devices on the market today (per The Healthy). Some back stretchers may be too small, hard, or aggressive, so make certain to find one that is appropriate for your body and medical needs. Proper technique and usage of back stretchers is paramount, especially since it's easy to overextend yourself and cause further injury if you're not sufficiently warmed up before using one.

Back stretchers can relieve mild tightness and tension with gentle stretching, but for people who are injured or have weak cores, they can do more damage and lead to further injury, reports Today. To increase spinal range of motion, back stretchers hyperextend the back, which can intensify existing back pain for some users. To safely use a back stretcher, you should be mindful of your muscular strength, especially in your core, and consult with your healthcare provider to assess whether the individual back stretcher you want to use is a good fit for you. The Healthy cautions that you should never try to overextend your back to the point of pain when using a back stretcher. Remember that there's a difference between mild stretching and causing injury.