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TikTok loves these back stretchers — but are they safe? Experts weigh in

Plus, other tools that may help relieve your WFH back pain.
Carol Yepes / Getty Images

Many of us are all too familiar with aches and pains that come after a long day of sitting at a desk. And, unfortunately, most of our improvised work-from-home setups aren't doing much to help the issue.

If you, like so many other people, are on the hunt for a solution, you may have come across a new product gaining popularity on TikTok and Instagram that claims to help relieve some of that tension (and maybe even provide some satisfying cracks). Back stretching boards (like this one) have been taking off on the app — and videos featuring these devices have racked up more than 197 million views. These boards, which are meant to be placed on the ground, feature a curve in the middle, so when a person lies on top of them, they arch the back and appear to provide a complete stretch.

While the videos are pretty satisfying to watch, we wanted to get the scoop on whether or not the tools are as effective — or even safe — when it comes to relieving back pain. So, Shop TODAY consulted with three experts to get their thoughts on the trendy devices.

Are back stretching boards safe to use?

Perhaps one of the biggest draws of these boards is the number of gratifying cracks that result after using them. But these cracks don't necessarily signal a good stretch. According to Dr. Febin Melepura, an interventional pain physician at the Sports Injury & Pain Management Clinic of New York City, back "cracks" are caused by the release of gases within the joint, and they don't actually increase the joint's mobility. Jan Lefkowitz, a chiropractor at Body in Balance Chiropractic, added that cracking your joints may also result in an endorphin release that can add to the feel-good sensation, but the effect is only temporary.

New York City chiropractor Randi Jaffe told Shop TODAY that, in certain cases, these tools can be an effective way for people who have mild tension or tightness in their backs to get a gentle stretch, increase flexibility and decrease muscle tension. But for others, they may actually do more harm than good.

"What these devices do is hyperextend your back, which is a great thing to do if you're not injured, right?" Melepura said. "When you're injured, you tend to have a weak core — weak abdominal muscles — so you can't control the hyperextension in a controlled manner, so you're essentially just dropping back, which can be very painful and can cause some damage."

Lefkowitz shared similar thoughts, adding that while it can be helpful for some people, it's not a one-size-fits-all solution for back pain. "Some back problems respond better to flexion exercises [leaning forward] and some respond better to extension exercises [leaning back], and a professional would test somebody in advance to know that ... and to customize which movements are right for them," he said.

Many of the stretching boards also have three adjustable height settings, so you can customize the level of your stretch. While the lower level may be suitable for many dealing with general tightness or tension, Jaffe cautions that the third (and highest) level creates a large arch in the back, "and again, if there's some sort of underlying condition or even just really tight muscles, you could go into a spasm or do some damage."

Ultimately, Jaffe, Melepura and Lefkowitz all said to Shop TODAY that if you are interested in trying it, you should consult with a medical professional first and see if it would be the right product for relieving your specific back pain.

How to relieve back pain

The most effective way to relieve pain in the long term is by strengthening your back and postural muscles, Lefkowitz said. Exercises like planks, walk-outs and hip raises can help with that.

It's also good to take time during the day to adjust your position and move around. "I really recommend people take breaks from all the sitting," Jaffe said. "Each hour, set your phone or your timer on your computer to just move, even if you're on a call — maybe not a Zoom call — but if you're on a call, you can march around or walk around your home, your apartment, walk the halls."

There are also some items you can add to your daily routine that can help provide some relief. If you're dealing with back pain, read on for a few other product suggestions from the experts.

Backjoy SitSmart Core Traction Back Support

Lefkowitz said that he likes this posture corrector, which can be placed on a desk chair or car seat to minimize slouching (and help cut down on body aches) throughout the day. "It keeps you from tilting your pelvis, so you don’t slouch, and your entire posture is better when you’re sitting," he said.

Aylio Coccyx Orthopedic Comfort Foam Seat Cushion

An ergonomic chair can take up a lot of room in a WFH setup, so if you don't have space to make the upgrade, try adding a supportive cushion to the one that you already have. Jaffe said that Aylio has some great options, but this one is her favorite. According to the brand, the contoured surface helps to distribute weight evenly and promote spine alignment.

Core Products SitBack Rest Lumbar Support Cushion

Jaffe also recommended a back cushion like this one, which can provide lumbar support to help ease pain. While she said that these cushions can "be very beneficial for enhancing a not-so-ergonomic home work chair," they're also great for long flights or drives.

Toloco Percussion Muscle Massage Gun

You can use a percussion massage gun to target specific areas of tension or soreness on your back and all over your body. "Sometimes you'll need a partner to help you [reach] certain areas, but a lot of it you can do on your own," Jaffe said. "And that's a great tool to use a couple of times throughout the workday or even after a workout."

Try this option, which is a No. 1 Amazon bestseller with more than 13,000 five-star ratings — and is currently more than 40% off.

Chirp Wheel+ (Set of 3)

Chirp Wheels have become a popular solution for those looking for back pain relief. Available in multiple sizes, Jaffe said that they provide a dynamic stretch as you roll on it — which can be intense. Much like the back stretchers, she added that you should check with a professional beforehand and watch some of the instructional videos on the brand's site or YouTube channel to get a better understanding of how to safely use it.

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