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Volleyball Players: Avoid Low Back Pain With This Stretching Technique

August 6, 2013 | Tony Duckwall

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Sore low backs are common among volleyball players midway through the season. Despite their athleticism and dedicated training, many players suffer from back pain. The cause is simple to diagnose but hard to treat.
Volleyball players move in short explosive bursts of three to five steps throughout games and practices. These movement patterns, repeated hundreds of times weekly, have a cumulative effect of shortening the hamstrings. As the hamstrings shorten, they pull on their attachment at the base of the pelvis, which causes the pelvis to rotate backwards, increasing stress at the sacroiliac joint and leading to low back pain.

Although common stretching techniques can provide partial relief, basic static stretching won't completely alleviate the symptoms. However, Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) is a fantastic technique to gain greater length through the hamstrings and relieve pain. This form of stretching was developed by Aaron Mattes, a registered kinesiotherapist and licensed massage therapist, whose techniques have helped thousands of professional and amateur athletes improve their agility and avoid injuries. Whereas static stretching may temporarily lengthen the muscle, Active Isolated Stretching functions as a multi-pronged approach by loosening tight muscles, grooving new neural patterns and increasing range of motion around the joint. These factors combine to offer immediate relief.

The AIS stretching protocol follows four distinct points:

  1. Isolate the muscle to be stretched
  2. Repeat the stretch eight to 10 times
  3. Hold each stretch for no more than two seconds
  4. Exhale on the stretch; inhale on the release

Athletes and coaches can apply these points to any muscle in the body. However, for preventing low back pain among volleyball players in particular, two muscles are critical: the hamstrings and the piriformis. Start the new stretching protocol by practicing the following stretches after workouts and on recovery days to help gain extra length through these areas.

AIS Hamstring Stretch

  • Lie on your back.
  • Bend your right knee slightly and place your right foot flat on the floor to take the tension off your back.
  • Keep your left leg straight with a band or rope draped around your foot. Hold an end of the rope in each hand.
  • Contract your quads and hip flexors and lift your left leg as high as you can, using the rope to increase the stretch with a gentle pull.
  • Hold the stretch for two seconds before lowering your leg back to the ground.
  • Repeat for a total of 10 reps; repeat with your right leg

AIS Piriformis Stretch

  • Lie on your back.
  • Bend your right knee slightly and place your right foot flat on the floor to take the tension off your back.
  • Bend your left knee and rotate it outward so your left ankle is crossed over your right knee.
  • Pull your right knee toward your chest. This should create a stretch deep in your left hip.
  • Hold the stretch for two seconds before lowering back to the ground.
  • Repeat for a total of 10 reps; repeat with your right leg

Active Isolated Stretching is a great technique to increase flexibility in tight muscles. However, it doesn't take the place of regular flexibility and mobility work. Incorporate the above stretches into your regular flexibility routine to reap the benefits of better movement and less pain throughout the volleyball season.

Read more about relieving back pain:

Photo: coreperformance.com

- Tony Duckwall is the athletic performance director for KIVA volleyball and IFHCK field hockey and co-owner and sports performance director for Louisville-based EDGE Sports Performance....
- Tony Duckwall is the athletic performance director for KIVA volleyball and IFHCK field hockey and co-owner and sports performance director for Louisville-based EDGE Sports Performance....
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