The lower back is one of the most common areas to experience tension and pain, and by looking at current lifestyle trends, it’s only going to get worse.
Nowadays we spend most of our time sitting whether that be at your 9-5 desk job, in your car or on your couch, and all this sitting can be really bad for your lower back.
The good news is that lower back pain caused by poor posture, too much sitting or a lack of mobility and exercise can be relieved through a daily routine of effective lower back stretches.
This is what this post intends to do, to provide a collection of the best stretches you can do to relieve and fix lower back pain.
I also intend to lay out a quick explanation that lies behind the cause of lower back pain and how you avoid it in the future.
Note that I am not an expert nor a health professional but I do enjoy researching health-related topics and curating the best content from health experts on the internet.
I have also experienced some lower back pain before so it is a topic I have an interest in.
However, this post is not intended to provide a solution for people with serious back issues caused by accidents and injuries which require surgery. In this case, the best thing to do is to see your doctor or ask them beforehand if these stretches would help you with your lower back.
Ok, now the disclaimer is out the way… Let’s get started!
Causes of Lower Back Pain
Locating the primary cause of lower back pain can be a complex procedure and it changes on a case by case basis.
There are so many causes of lower back pain that all of them cannot be covered in one post, however here are a few examples:
- Straining or spraining the lower back muscles (lifting heavy objects, sharp and sudden movements etc.)
- Herniated disc
- Arthritis and Osteoarthritis
- Joint dysfunction
- Poor posture and lifestyle habits
It is the last point that this post will focus on.
I feel many people have lower back pain that is caused by poor posture and lifestyle habits, and this can be fixed by picking the right corrective exercises and stretches.
The Problem of Too Much Sitting & a Sedentary Lifestyle
As I mentioned earlier, too much sitting or a sedentary lifestyle can be a contributor to lower back pain.
The connection between poor lifestyle habits and lower back pain is not always obvious and there may be a misconception that the pain solely arises due to persistent curving or arching of the lower back whilst seated.
Although this is certainly true it is unlikely to be the primary cause of why lower back pain affects people who sit a lot or do not exercise.
As I understand the main reason is that sitting too much creates certain muscle imbalances in the body particularly around the pelvis and hip area. When these imbalances occur they can pull your body out of alignment which can cause lower back pain.
Here are some of the muscles imbalances that may occur:
- Glute muscles begin to switch off the more you sit.
- The abdominals (core) will also weaken
- Hamstrings weaken
- Hip flexors tighten and shorten due to holding the muscles in shortened positions for long periods of time whilst seated.
- The lower back will arch and become tight
All these factors will usually occur all in the same instance and your muscles will weaken and shorten to adapt to these new positions with enough time.
If these muscle imbalances are not addressed they can lead to developing an arch in the lower back or most likely an anterior pelvic tilt. Lower back pain is also likely to follow.
How Stretching Can Help with Lower Back Pain
Simply put, stretching can help by easing the pain and tightness in the lower back.
When all the muscles imbalances (mentioned above) occurs, they either put too much strain or pull onto your lower back. The right stretches can also help reduce any tension that leads to pain in the muscles that are around and support the spine.
This is why you don’t have to necessary stretch the lower back to help relieve lower back pain.
By stretching the tight muscles which pull on the lower back (such as the hip flexors) this can be just as, if not more effective than stretching out the lower back.
If you’ve ever wondered why you may see stretches to relieve lower back pain that are focused on other parts of the body, this is the reason!
For this reason, this post is split up into stretches that target the lower back specifically, as well as the other parts of the body that contribute to lower back pain.
Tips and Best Practices for Stretching
Before I started to take stretching seriously I never knew how to stretch properly and found that I got little benefit out of it.
If you’ve been to the gym or played sports, you’ll often see people doing random stretches just before their activities. I imagine a large portion of these people don’t really know what they are doing and I have to admit that I also did random stretches too! Afterall it makes you look more professional, doesn’t it?
However, stretching in this way for such a short amount of time doesn’t really do much, especially when the body hasn’t had time to warm up.
Here are a couple of quick tips for an effective stretching session.
- Hold a stretch for at least 30 seconds and feel the stretch.
- Alternate between stretches and come back to an already stretched area. You may find that you are able to sink a lot deeper than the first time.
- Make sure to breathe. Focus on the breath. This helps tell the brain to relax any tense muscles.
- Move slowly rather than jerking quickly into stretches
- Wear comfortable and loose clothing. You don’t want your new pair of skinny jeans stopping you from moving freely during your stretch session!
- Focus on form and length rather than trying to look impressive
- Stretch frequently and often to maximise results
- Focus on the stretches that feel good for you. Not all stretches you come across will work for you. You may find some stretches and positions more effective than others. Go with the ones you like the best and don’t worry if you don’t like all of them.
The most important thing to do is to relax, focus on form and take your time.
The Best Stretches For The Lower Back
The stretches in this section directly target the lower back.
1. Cat/Cow Stretch
To do this stretch, kneel down with your palms on the ground in front of you. Ensure your knees and hands are directly below your hips and shoulders respectively. Starting in a neutral position, round your back upwards and suck your belly in tight. In this position, you should feel a stretch all across your back. Hold this position. After a while bring your pelvis back into a neutral position then repeat.
2. Child’s Pose
I never used to find this stretch effective but now things are different once I changed up my technique. When you are in child’s pose, push your butt back towards your heels whilst at the same time reaching forward. Tweak your body in such a way so that you feel a stretch in your lower back.
3. Forward Fold (Touching Your Toes)
I’ve found another great stretch for the lower back is the forward fold. The video above provides a thorough explanation of how to do one properly. You’ll find that it is not as simple as reaching down towards your feet. Ensure you keep your back long and stretched when folding over.
If you’re worried about your hamstring flexibility you can bend your knees.
The forward fold is a good stretch for lower back pain because it also works to increase hamstring flexibility which will help reduce tension in the lower back.
4. Lying Knee to Chest Stretch
Personally, I do not find this stretch works particularly well for me (I prefer the others), however, I thought I would include it as it is a popular stretch for the lower back.
5. Lying Knee to Chest Twist Stretch
This stretch helps target the muscles around the sides of the lower back as well as the hip and glute area which adds extra benefits. My spine never fails to ‘pop’ when doing this kind of a stretch. This is one of my favourite stretches.
Best Additional Stretches to Fix Lower Back Pain
The stretches in this section involve stretching the muscles around the lower back which can further help to relieve pain in the lower back.
The idea behind wanting to loosen these muscles is that the looser the hips and upper leg area feels, the better the back will feel.
6. Supine Hamstring Stretch with Band
If your hamstrings are too tight this can also help exacerbate lower back pain. The fact that this stretch uses a band will help a lot of people who struggle with touching their toes or general hamstring flexibility.
7. Supine Piriformis & Glute Stretch
This stretch targets the Piriformis and glute area. When these muscles become too tight it can worsen lower back pain. By performing this stretch you can take tension off the back as well as reducing hip pain.
8. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch (Iliopsoas)
The longer you remain in a seated position the tighter the hip flexors get, which can pull onto your low back increasing tension. The kneeling hip flexor stretch helps lengthen the Illiopsoas hip flexor and take some of the tension off the back.
In addition to this stretch, it would be good practice to add additional moves that target the other three muscles that make up the hip flexors.
For a more thorough guide on how to do this see my page on how to stretch the hip flexors.
Lower Back Stretching Routines
The stretches above work great in isolation but sometimes it’s nice to have a routine you can follow along to on a daily basis.
The videos in this section are some of the best stretching routines for the lower back. Most of the stretches have already been mentioned in this post.
2 Minute Lower Back Stretching Routine
This video consists of three moves and lasts only 2 minutes.
- Forward fold back stretch
- Cat/cow stretch
- Lying knee twist stretch
5 Minute Lower Back Stretching Routine
This video lasts 5 minutes and includes.
- Seated toe touch
- Lying glute stretch
- Prone torso stretch (lying knee twist stretch)
- Cobra stretch
- Shell stretch (modified Child’s pose)
10 Minute Lower Back Stretching Routine
This routine lasts just under 10 minutes and includes:
- Cat/cow stretch
- Child’s pose
- Cobra stretch
- Knee to chest stretch
- Lying knee twist stretch
- Lying hamstring stretch
- Glute and Piriformis stretch (thread the needle)
- Butterfly stretch
Target the Quadratus Lumborum for Extra Pain Relief
Outside of the traditional stretches, you may want to consider stretching and releasing your quadratus lumborum muscle. The Quadratus Lumborum (QL) are muscles positioned around the lower back either side of the spine.
A tight QL can also be the cause of lower back pain so it’s a good idea to investigate whether you have issues with your QL.
To find out more, check out my post on how to stretch and release the quadratus lumborum.
How to Fix Lower Back Pain for Good
By doing these stretches frequently and with the right form and technique, over time they should help relieve lower back pain.
Add Strengthening Exercises to Your Routine
Assuming that you have an anterior pelvic tilt and that your lower back pain is caused by poor posture and muscle imbalances, the best way to fix lower back pain for good is to add corrective exercises to your routine. Stretching is great for relieving pain but it does not address the root cause of lower back pain.
As I mentioned there are certain muscle imbalances that result in muscles either becoming too tight or too weak. The lower back stretches in this article addresses the tightness issue.
However, it is advisable to also focus on strengthening your core, hamstrings and glutes. For a more complete guide which includes exercises, see this page on how to fix an anterior pelvic tilt.
If You Have to be at a Desk All Day, Get the Right Equipment
Sitting all day with bad posture can force your back to become tight and strained. To help prevent this It would be ideal to avoid sitting for too long during the day, however, often times you may have commitments where you must be seated.
If this is the case, consider getting a standing desk, ergonomic chair, a back brace or a lumbar support pillow for your office chair to help with your lower back pain.
Massage Your Body to Further Loosen Your Muscles
I’m a big fan of self-massage using all kinds of myofascial release tools. Get yourself a foam roller or a good massage ball and try gently releasing some of the tension around the lower back and hip area. Performing myofascial release on your tight muscles before stretching will greatly increase the benefits you get during your stretching session.
Try to Sit Less & Exercise More
The other way to fix lower back pain is to change up your lifestyle habits. If you sit a lot during the day, you could try standing up more frequently or getting a standing desk. Rather than taking a bus or car could you walk to your destination instead?
On the other hand, if you are not already doing so, you could start exercising, taking up a sport or becoming more active. A positive side effect of doing this is that you may strengthen the weakened muscles whilst taking part in these activities.
Stretching is a Great Place to Start
Either way, stretching is a great place to start with fixing your lower back pain. Not only that but it increases your range of motion and flexibility which will help you feel much better on a day to day basis.
I hope this post was helpful and will help with your lower back pain. For further information and help here are some posts you may want to check out:
- How to fix an anterior pelvic tilt
- How to stretch the hip flexors
- How to stretch the quadratus lumborum
- The best myofascial release tools