Lower back problems are very common. They can cause a constant dull ache or a sudden sharp pain. Lower back pain has a variety of possible causes, which range from poor posture to underlying medical conditions. However, certain stretches may help by relieving pain and improving flexibility.
In this article, we discuss the types of back conditions that may benefit from stretches. We also provide a list of stretches that may help reduce pain and improve flexibility in the lower back.
Conditions that stretches may help
Lower back problems are one of the most common reasons for visiting the doctor or taking time off work. These issues can cause short- or long-term pain and difficulty moving.
Poor posture or sitting still for long periods can cause lower back pain and tightness. Other possible causes of problems in the lower back include:
- Injuries: Sprains or strains can cause pain anywhere in the back.
- Congenital abnormalities: Some conditions, such as scoliosis, affect the spine at birth.
- Degenerative conditions: Other conditions that affect the spine can worsen with time, such as arthritis.
- Nerve problems: Nerves run up and down the spinal cord. Some conditions that affect these nerves, such as sciatica, can cause lower back problems.
- Pregnancy: The weight of the growing fetus can put pressure on the lower back, causing pain.
Lower back stretches to increase flexibility and relieve pain
Many different treatments are available for reducing lower back pain. For example, a doctor might recommend pain relievers and physical therapy.
Growing evidence supports the benefits of stretching and practicing yoga for treating pain and improving flexibility. A 2020 study suggests that a tailored yoga program may help relieve back and neck pain, improving quality of life as a result.
A 2016 review further supports this by suggesting that yoga appears to be a safe and effective treatment for chronic low back pain. The authors of a different 2016 review also note that exercise programs that incorporate flexibility are beneficial for relieving back pain. They state that this is because increased flexibility leads to improvements in range of motion and functional movement.
Several different stretches can help increase flexibility and reduce pain in the lower back. People can start by trying the following stretches:
The Cat-Cow stretch is a popular yoga pose for stretching the lower back:
- Start on the hands and knees in a tabletop position, with the back straight.
- Slowly tilt the pelvis back, allowing the spine to curve inward.
- Breathe in during the movement and lift the head to look upward.
- Start to move the pelvis in the opposite direction, letting the spine round.
- Draw the navel toward the spine while breathing in.
- Slowly drop the head to look toward the ground.
- Repeat this cycle several times.
A knee-to-chest stretch lengthens the lower back muscles:
- Lie flat on the back.
- Bring both knees up toward the chest and wrap the arms around the upper shins.
- Gently squeeze with the arms to pull the knees closer to the chest.
- Hold this position for 15 seconds before releasing it.
Child’s Pose is another popular yoga position for lengthening the lower back:
- Start on all fours with the hands directly under the shoulders and the knees just wider than the hips.
- Slowly sit back on the legs while reaching out forward with the arms. Rest the forehead gently on the floor.
- Try to lengthen the spine as much as possible, without overstretching.
- Hold the position for 20 seconds.
Pelvic tilts engage the abdominal muscles and stretch the lower back:
- Lie on the back and bend the legs so that the knees point to the ceiling and the feet are flat on the ground.
- Relax the back to give a slight curve to the spine.
- Tense the abdominal muscles to straighten the spine.
- Hold this position for 10 seconds and then repeat the exercise 10 times.
The bridge pose involves the gluteus maximus muscles, which are at the back of the thighs underneath the hips:
- Lie on the back with the knees bent up and the feet hip-width apart.
- Pushing into the feet, activate the gluteus maximus muscles to lift the lower back, bringing the hips in line with the shoulders and knees.
- Keep the hands flat on the ground and use them for stability.
- Hold the pose for 15 seconds before lowering the body back to the ground.
- Repeat 5 times.
A Cobra stretch is another yoga pose that people commonly use to improve flexibility:
- Lie on the stomach facing the ground.
- Place the hands shoulder-width apart, just in front of the hips, and slowly push into them.
- Let the upper body rise from the ground while pushing into the hands and pressing the hips into the ground.
- Hold the position at the top of the pose for 15 seconds.
- Release back to the ground and repeat 5 times.
The supine twist stretches the lower back and gluteus maximus muscles:
- Lie on the back with the arms outstretched to create a T position.
- Lift both feet and bring the knees toward the chest until the shins are parallel to the ground.
- Keeping the palms and shoulders flat on the ground, lower the knees to one side of the body.
- Hold this position for 20 seconds before switching to the other side.
- Repeat several times on each side.
Bird-Dog is a useful stretch for building core strength and relieving tension in the lower back:
- Start with the hands and knees on the floor, making sure that the shoulders are over the hands, and the hips are over the knees.
- Tighten the abdominal muscles and extend one arm straight forward at shoulder level.
- Lift and extend the opposite leg straight out from the hip.
- Tighten the muscles and hold this position for 15 seconds.
- Return to the start position and repeat with the opposite arm and leg.
- Perform 5 repetitions on each side.
Lower back pain and tightness are very common. Maintaining good posture and avoiding long periods of sitting may help prevent these symptoms. People can ease the symptoms with pain relievers and a range of stretches.
However, back pain and tightness are sometimes due to an injury or a medical condition. In these cases, a person should speak to a doctor or physical therapist before starting a new exercise routine.
It is important that people avoid any exercises or stretches that put excess strain on the back and cause pain.