Back pain affects millions of people in the U.S. every year and is the leading cause of disability all over the world. According to the American Chiropractic Association, 80% of the world’s population will experience back problems at some time in their lives. The best solution to combat back pain is to find an exercise and flexibility routine that will help strengthen your muscles to relieve the pain and help prevent future problems. The best stretches for lower back pain can help relieve tension in the back, reduce pain, and increase flexibility.
The basics: The 5 best stretches for lower back pain
The best stretches for lower back pain are those that help reduce muscle tension while also strengthening the core muscles that support the body. We’ve listed five of what we think are the best stretches for lower back pain below. When performing any of these stretches, you should be able to approach them at the level that feels best for you. You can modify any of these if they don’t work.
Some good practices for exercise is to always warm up before you start stretching, especially if you haven’t exercised a lot recently. A great warm-up is a quick walk, walking in place, or some light dancing. Don’t try to push yourself too hard in the beginning or it will only lead to more pain and not wanting to exercise. Remember being in pain is not a normal part of exercising.
Always have good breath control when you do any exercise. You never want to hold your breath, but instead you should exhale during a stretch and inhale when you release the stretch. Always consult your pain doctor before starting a new routine, as they will be able to best provide you with suggestions based on your condition. They will also be able to advise against certain stretches that may exacerbate your condition.
And finally, before trying any of these stretches for lower back pain, it’s a good idea to know the basics behind what back pain is and what causes it. This quick video from PainDoctor.com gives a great introduction to the science behind back pain.
1. Lying knee twist
This is a great exercise to stretch the spine and strengthen the core. Lay down on your back in a fully extended position. Then, take your right leg and lay it across the left leg as far as it can go to allow for a gentle stretch through the back and glutes. Hold this for 20 seconds and then slowly rotate back to center. Now do the other side. Repeat this three times for maximum effect. Place a block under your crossed knee if this sideways motion is pulling too much.
2. Chair hamstring stretch
This is one of the best stretches for lower back pain and the perfect alternative to the toe touch. As you’ll read below, in the poses we advise against for lower back pain, a toe touch can put unnecessary pressure on your lower back.
Instead of standing, start this hamstring exercise by sitting on the edge of a chair with your back straight and your feet firmly planted on the ground.
Extend one leg outward in front of you and reach toward your toes. This will give your hamstrings a workout and it won’t have the side effect of putting a lot of pressure on your back. Hold this for 15 seconds and then switch legs. Try to stretch out both legs at least three times.
3. Cobra pose
This yoga move can help stretch out your lower back and abdominal muscles. Begin by lying down on your stomach and stretching your legs out behind you. Plant your elbows and palms on the ground and make sure your arms make a 90° angle with the floor. Slowly contract your abs, and use your abs strength to push your body off the ground. There should be little pressure on your arms or elbows. Go only so far as your movement is still controlled by your abs. Don’t let your hips leave the ground and once you reach a good stretch hold for ten seconds.
This is one of the best stretches for lower back pain and it also hits the neck and shoulders. Get down on all fours with your shoulders directly above your wrists and your knees above your ankles. Keep your neck straight to start. On an inhale, lift your head and bottom, while allowing your stomach to drop. Hold at the top of the inhale. Then, as you exhale, tuck your chin and begin to curve your back upwards (like a Halloween cat). Push slowly and steadily with your hands on the ground until you can feel the stretch across your shoulders and lower back. Inhale and repeat the back bend. Exhale and repeat the curl. Do this for ten repetitions, or as long as feels good for you.
5. Child’s pose
This stretch will help elongate the back and can really be a stress buster. Start on all fours and stretch your arms as far out in front of you as possible. Then, bring your glutes back so they hover just above or on your heels. Place your forehead on the ground. Now hold this for twenty seconds and repeat as many times as feels comfortable for you.
Finding even more of the best stretches for lower back pain
There are many ways to strengthen your back muscles to help relieve pain, besides what we think are our five of the best stretches for lower back pain. One of the most entertaining and useful ways uses video instruction to really help you understand the intricacies of each workout. With an internet connection, an iPad or laptop, and a yoga mat, you can start hitting some of the best stretches for lower back pain (along with some light exercises) right in your living room! Here’s a list of lower back pain videos that can help you combat pain and keep you coming back for more.
Our video is a simple and easy tutorial that runs through three effective stretches to warm up your back. A helpful narrator from Pain Doctor describes each stretch in detail as a volunteer performs the movements in the background. Click “Show More” in the description for a transcribed version of the video and some great links to Paindoctor.com’s social media accounts.
Not the most concise title, but with three million views, it is hard to argue with. Listen to tranquil music and follow yoga instructor Jen Hilman in a series of poses designed to target pain throughout the entire spine. Jen is easy to understand and you will feel just like you are in the studio getting a private lesson.
This video shows a sequence of five gentles stretches from our friends at WebMD. These lower back pain exercises are guided by a physical therapist as he shows them on a patient. A header pops up that also provides the suggested reps and time to spend on each exercise. The narrator also provides useful tips on how the stretches should be performed and what muscles they target.
Fitness Blender’s video runs through eight 50-second lower back pain exercises that require no equipment. There is no down time in this video so it goes by fast, but each move is expertly shown by the model. The narrator does an excellent job of describing the form and instructing you on how to get the maximum effect out of each movement. The timer is a great help that can help you stay on and give you a heads up of your next exercise.
Dr. Saranjeet Singh, sports medicine specialist, demonstrates his five steps to lower back pain relief. The video starts out with some common causes of lower back pain. He then moves in to the best stretches for lower back pain he uses. The catchy music and simple stretches makes this a fun video to follow along with. He also provides some safety measures at the end that are useful for every workout.
Cassy Ho from Blogilates shows us her routine to get rid of back pain in this short YouTube video. Not only are the stretches easy to follow, but her quirky personality makes following along a treat. The only issue you might have while watching this video is stopping every now and then to laugh at a funny story or a humorous remark.
Have lower back pain, but can only spare a single minute for exercise? Well then, this is for you! This video runs through a few basic exercises in a little over one minute. Each exercise will also give you the suggested reps, so you can add one or all of these stretches to your next workout.
This workout can help your back and might make you sweat a little. This video comes in two parts. The first is a handful of lower back stretches to get you warmed up as well as relieve pain, and the second is focused on strengthening your muscles to prevent pain. Follow along as Coach Kozah does the whole routine so you don’t have to watch the clock.
What to avoid when doing stretches for lower back pain
Knowing what not to do is just as important as incorporating the best stretches for lower back pain into your routine. Mild discomfort is common as you start stretching as your muscles are not yet used to the strain. However, if mild pain lasts for more than a few minutes, you should stop immediately. This is a good indication that the exercise is aggravating your back problems, rather than helping.
Some stretches you should avoid when getting started include:
- Standing toe touch: This stretch can put a lot of pressure on the discs and ligaments in your spine as well as overstretch supporting muscles such as the hamstrings
- Leg lift: It is important to have a strong core to alleviate back pain, but a weak core will force you to overcompensate with the back in this exercise, leading to even more pain
- Full sit-up: This is another common exercise that can lead to back pain as it puts a lot of pressure on your lower back
Always be aware of your posture when doing any stretch. Even the best stretches for lower back pain can cause issues if they are done incorrectly. Never sacrifice technique for a deeper stretch as it can cause a lot more pain and hinder the rest of your workout.
And, as always, talk to your doctor before performing these or any other lower back pain stretches. Your specific pain condition may be exasperated by these stretches, if done incorrectly or not at all. Your doctor may be able to recommend stretches that work better for you or suggest modifications.