Take the low back health test

Community: Health tips from Logan Scharf

In the “cat stretch,” if the pencil end is off your back, that's worth two points in the low back test. (Logan Scharf/community contributor)
In the “cat stretch,” if the pencil end is off your back, that's worth two points in the low back test. (Logan Scharf/community contributor)

Editor’s note: Dr. Logan Scharf is an associate at Thrive Spine and Sport, a chiropractic and soft tissue clinic in Cedar Rapids focusing on sport and overuse injuries. Scharf is a graduate of Palmer College of Chiropractic and certified by Integrative Diagnosis for the diagnosis and treatment of soft tissue injuries.

More than 80 percent of the population will be affected by low back pain at some point in their life.

Twenty-five have suffered low back pain in the last three months alone.

Low back pain is one of the leading causes of disability and lost production in this country. Solutions to the problem aren’t often easy and far too many people are left looking for answers for why their back always hurts. Low back pain is a big deal and keeping your low back healthy should be a priority.

If you struggle with low back pain, wouldn’t it be nice to know why your back always hurts? Or maybe, if you’re one of the lucky ones not currently in pain, wouldn’t it be nice to know your low back pain risk and what you need to do to prevent it?

Now you can by taking these five tests at home. Why these five tests? These five tests are the most basic, functional movements of the low back. Every healthy person should be able to perform these tests.

Perform each test below — some may need the help of a partner — and rate yourself for each test. Add the scores together at the end to get your score.

Follow these directions to fix your low back.

1 Straight leg raiser. You will need a partner for this. Download a “bubble level” app on your phone. Make sure the app measures angle as well. There are a ton of free ones out there that work well for this. I recommend “Clinometer” for Android and “iHandy Level Free” for iPhones. Lie on your back with feet extended out in front. Place the phone with the bubble app open in the middle of the shin. One leg at a time, have your partner lift the leg with the knee straight. Move the leg until it can no longer stretch or the hip or opposing leg starts to lift off the ground. Record the degree.


For 85 to 90 degrees you get two points, for 75 to 84 one point and less than 74 degrees is worth zero points.

2 Knee-to-chest. While still laying on your back, one leg at a time, pull your knee to your chest. The front of the leg should touch the bottom of your rib cage without any pinch in the anterior hip. If you cannot get the front of your leg to touch your chest, measure how far away by placing fingers between your chest and leg. Record the distance.

If your leg is flat on your check with no anterior hip pinch you get zero points. If you leg is one to three fingers from chest, point, and if your leg is more than 4 fingers from chest, zero points.

3 “Cat stretch.” You will need a partner and a pencil. With your hands and knees on the floor arch your low back as much as possible by trying to bring your hips to your chest. Have your partner place a pencil on your lower back. What does it look like?

If the pencil end is off your back, that’s two points and if the pencil is flat, that’s one point. If the ends of the pencil are not touching, zero points.

4 Lunge. Standing up, take a large step forward and drop the back knee to the ground. Keep your body upright. Place a ruler under your back leg. Measure how far the front of the hip extends out from the ruler.

If it is more than 12 inches, that’s worth two points. If it’s 9 to 11 1/2 inches, that’s one point, and if it’s less than nine inches, zero points.

5 Toe touch. Standing upright bend forward and try to touch the floor in front of your toes. Use a ruler to measure how far away the tip of your finger is away from the floor.


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If you finger is touching the floor, that’s worth two points. If you are less than two inches from floor, that’s one point. If you are more than two inches, zero points.

What did you get? If you accumulated nine or 10 points, you have a healthy back, Seven or eight, chances are you may not have low back pain now, but you should try to improve the tests that are lagging with some simple daily mobility, stretching and exercise. Less than six points, your back is in trouble.

You should seek the help of a local musculoskeletal expert for solutions to fix these movements and solve your low back pain.

It is important to note these five tests are assessments used in the Integrative Diagnosis system. The most common cause of limited range of motion and pain is muscle adhesion. Integrative Diagnosis is the most advanced diagnosis and treatment system for solving musculoskeletal problems.

• For more information, email Scharf at or visit



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