A forward fold, is a very common exercise done as a lower back and hamstring stretch, but is it ideal?
When the spine flexes forward, and the muscles of the lower back lengthen under tension, and vertebral flexion create compressive loads on the disks. These loads exceed those deemed safe by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. As the spine reaches its end range of motion during full flexion, its tolerance for compressive loads decreases, putting the disks and supportive ligaments at even greater risk of injury. An unsupported flexed spine, also places shear loads on the spine, and these loads can cause more harm than compressive loads when the spine is fully flexed.
To decrease these forces, keep the spin in a neutral position, and flex at the hips as demonstrated in the two images below.
The forward fold as demonstrated above decreases, compressive load and shear force while achieving the objectives of a hamstring stretch, it is also begins to pattern correct lifting technique. To come of out of this stretch, be sure to keep your back neutral as you support yourself by pressing your hands into your thighs.
Modified Forward Fold
The forward fold done with a prop is an excellent and spine safe way to achieve a forward fold if your hip mobility does not allow you to touch the floor with a neutral spine. To come of out of this stretch, be sure to keep your back neutral as you support yourself by pressing your hands into your thighs.