Lower back pain is a common medical condition, affecting 65 million adult Americans.¹ In most cases, lower back pain results from poor movement and soft-tissue injuries.² More uncommonly, it could signal an underlying condition such as acute pancreatitis, osteoarthritis, and kidney stones.
Research has revealed that intensive stretching can help relieve and prevent lower back pain.³ Regular stretches can improve mobility and blood flow around the body. By reducing stiffness, you can improve your body’s movement to help speed up recovery.
While stretching won’t work for all types of back pain, some gentle exercises, such as those described below, are worth a try. This article looks at eight stretches to relieve lower back pain.
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The sphinx stretch is a gentle backbend that relaxes and strengthens your lower back and core muscles. These extended positions can help improve alignment for people with certain conditions, such as a bulging or herniated disc.
Follow the steps below to perform the sphinx stretch:
Lie on your stomach, head up, with your elbows underneath your shoulders. Extend your hands in front with your palms facing down.
Set your feet slightly apart and gently engage your lower back, thighs, and buttocks while lifting your head and chest.
As you arch up, take a deep breath in.
Press your pelvis into the floor.
Close your eyes and hold the pose for 30–60 seconds.
Bridges are designed to work your gluteal muscles, which are crucial to hip strength and core stability. In particular, the gluteus maximus is vital in supporting the lower back by activating the hips in your day-to-day movements. You naturally engage these muscles whenever you move your hips, for example, when squatting or walking.
Follow the steps below to perform bridges:
Lie on your back and bend your knees. Place the feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
Press your feet firmly on the ground and keep your arms by your sides.
Raise the buttocks gently off the ground so that your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
Squeeze the buttocks firmly, keeping your shoulders on the floor.
Lower the buttocks gently to the floor and rest for a few seconds.
Repeat all the steps 15 times, then rest for one minute before slowly getting up.
The cat-cow pose helps keep your spine mobile while stretching your neck, shoulder, and chest muscles at the same time.
This stretch can help to relieve pain and stiffness in the lower back region. It increases spinal flexibility while relieving tightness in other muscles.
Follow the steps below for cat-cow stretches:
Get into a four-point kneeling position by placing hands and knees on the ground. Curl your toes under.
Press into your hands and feet while inhaling, tilting your pelvis back, and dropping your stomach towards the floor. Keep your abdominal muscles engaged. This is called the cow pose.
As you exhale, come into a cat pose by lying the tops of your feet on the floor and arching your spine towards the ceiling. Release your head towards the floor.
Continue moving between the cow and cat pose with each breath.
Perform for one to two minutes.
Knee-to-chest stretches work your hip and lower back muscles. People with degenerative changes or joint stiffness may find this exercise relieves tension and stiffness. It can also reduce pressure on spinal nerves by creating extra space for the nerves to exit the spine.
Follow the steps below to perform knee-to-chest stretches:
Lie flat on your back on a level floor.
Bend your knees, ensuring both feet are flat on the floor.
Next, use both your hands to gently but firmly pull one knee toward the chest.
Hold your knee against your chest for five seconds while tightening your core and pressing your spine into the floor.
Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.
The pelvic tilt strengthens your abdominal muscles and stretches your lower back (lumbar spine). Strengthening your pelvic and abdominal muscles helps improve postural awareness, core stability, and spinal alignment.
Overall, these benefits can help ease lower back pain and tightness.
Follow the steps below to perform pelvic tilts:
Lie on your back with your knees bent.
Gently engage your lower abdominal muscles while keeping your back flat against the floor.
Breathe normally and hold the position for ten seconds.
Release the position and take some deep breaths to relax your body.
The lower back rotation stretch is much like the spinal twist. Both help to relieve pain and tension around the side of the back and trunk.
Lower back rotations also gently work on improving the core muscles in your side, such as your obliques.
Follow the steps below to perform lower back rotational stretches.
Lie flat on your back and bend both knees, with feet firmly planted on the ground.
Slowly roll the knees to one side, keeping your shoulders firmly on the floor.
Hold this position for five to ten seconds.
Return to the starting position and roll the knees to the opposite side.
Stay in the position briefly and return to the starting position.
A seated spinal twist is a whole-body stretch that targets the hips, abdominals, shoulders, neck, and back. These rotational stretches help relieve tightness if you are experiencing stiffness on one side.
Follow the steps below to perform seated spinal twists:
Sit comfortably on the floor and extend both legs in front.
Bend your left knee and put one foot to the outside of your right thigh.
Put your right arm on the outside of your left thigh and place the left hand behind you for support.
Gently twist the base of your spine to the left side and hold this position for about 60 seconds.
Repeat the exercise on the other side.
Piriformis stretches aim to reduce the tightness of the piriformis muscle. This is a difficult-to-reach muscle running from your sacrum (tailbone) to your femur (thigh bone).
The piriformis muscle can often tighten if you have a particular condition, such as sciatica or lower back pain.
Take the following steps to perform a piriformis stretch:
Lie flat on your back and bend both knees, with your feet flat on the floor.
Place your right ankle at the base of your left thigh.
Put your hands behind the left thigh and pull gently towards the chest until you feel the stretch.
Hold this position for about one minute before repeating on the other side.
Lower back pain can range from muscle aches to shooting or burning sensations. Pain from the back can worsen while bending, lifting, standing, walking, or twisting. Low back pain can negatively impact your quality of life, leading to missed work and even disability.
Fortunately, you can take measures to prevent or relieve most back pain episodes. The stretches we’ve looked at in the article may offer some relief.