Dancers/yogis: How to improve your back flexibility without the pain!

In the clinic we tend to have ‘flavour of the month’ injuries and complaints. This past few weeks I have been having some dancers but also some yoga lovers coming in with complaints of poor back flexibility and/or pain in the back and pelvis when they are trying to extend the spine. Whilst there are varied reasons why the pain may be present when doing these movements, I thought it might be a good idea to do an overview of the most common reason and also suggest some simple exercises which may help you on your journey to a ‘bendier’ back (safely of course!)

Extending the spine (bending backwards) is a common requirement for many dance, gymnastic, yoga and Pilates positions. Like other parts of the body, naturally some people may exhibit more range and flexibility in their spine than other people. For some of you, back flexibility may be your weak spot and when trying to push yourself to perform certain movements you may experience a ‘pinching pain’ or even just a residual ache in the back of doing repetitive extension movements.

The most common reason I see either a lack of flexibility with extension and/or pain with extension is that the person is ‘hinging’ from one or multiple areas of the spine and is not evenly sharing the extension throughout the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae. Take a look at the two pictures below. This person (it’s me! And yes, I hinge – A LOT) is performing a back extension movement but can you see how most of the extension is solely coming from the one section (the red arrow) and the spinal sections above are completely straight and not contributing at all (blue line).

hinge 1hinging


Now for these types of presentations (there’s a lot of you folk out there), pain could be at the hinge point (red arrow) due to it taking too much of the load OR pain could present at the blue line due to that area not getting enough movement and thus its stiff and angry. This is when coming in and getting assessed is important so that we can tailor a program for you based on your needs. However below I will run through some general exercises of how to improve the distribution of extension into each segment of the spine. If any of these give you pain or too much discomfort then don’t persist with them and come and see us.

The objective for all these exercises is to promote extension throughout the back or in other words segmentally (each vertebral segment sharing the load) and to not hinge from any particular point. Remember à I won’t make these look perfect… I’m a work in progress like you guys!


Exercise one: SWAN using a foam roller. I’m trying to extend more from my lower thoracic and upper lumbar segments here. I am rolling up with the assistance of the foam roller and then would slowly roll down.

swan roller


Exercises two: Supine extension using a foam roller. Im trying to get more localised extension of my thoracic spine (mid back) so as to take away some load from my hinge point. So the key here is to have the roller at the areas where the ‘blue line’ was in my assessment photos above.

thoracic roller


Exercises three: Spine corrector segmental extension. Using the Pilates spine corrector here I am cueing myself to slowly and evenly extend at each level working my way down the barrel making sure my spine stays in contact with the barrel and is not hinging at my hinge point.

start of spine correctorspine correct


Exercise four: swiss ball wall extension. I look pretty average in this (remember I’m a work in progress). I would cue to open out wider through my chest, bring the sternum forward and shoulders blades back. You may also feel a stretch under the arms.

swiss ball thoracic


Give these a try and see how you measure up! If there is a particular yoga pose or dance position that your back just doesn’t like then it’s likely you may have some dysfunction here and so it’s always best to come in and get assessed.

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