Lower back pain is extremely common, affecting up to 80% of adults at some point in their lives. The good news is that simple stretches, along with some lifestyle changes, can help relieve discomfort and prevent future flare-ups.
In this easy-to-follow blog post, I’ll share my top stretches to loosen tight hips, relax the muscles in the lower back, and improve spinal mobility. Whether you currently have back pain or want to keep your back healthy, incorporating these movements into your daily routine is a great place to start.
Anatomy of the Lower Back
Before we get to the stretches, let’s quickly review the anatomy of the lower back, also known as the lumbar spine:
- The lumbar spine contains five vertebrae, which provide flexibility and support for the upper body. These vertebrae are numbered L1 through L5.
- Between each vertebra are intervertebral discs, which act as shock absorbers for the spine.
- Many muscles surround the lumbar spine, including the erector spinae, multifidus, quadratus lumborum, and psoas major. These muscles provide stability and allow movement.
- The network of nerves exiting the lumbar spine make up the sciatic nerve. Irritation of these nerves can cause back pain and/or sciatica.
Common Causes of Lower Back Pain
Tight muscles, strained ligaments, injured discs, and pinched nerves can all trigger lower back discomfort. Common culprits include:
- Poor posture: Slouching stresses the structures of the lower spine.
- Lack of core strength: Weak abdominals and back muscles cannot properly support the lower spine.
- Tight hip flexors: Short, tight hip flexors (psoas muscles) tilt the pelvis forward, overarching the lower back.
- Excess weight: Extra pounds strain the vertebrae and discs.
- Repetitive motions: Twisting while lifting is a common cause of injury.
Many cases of back pain will resolve with rest, heat/ice application, OTC pain medication, and gentle stretches. But if pain persists for more than a few days or causes muscle weakness, numbness, or tingling, see your doctor.
Best Stretches for the Lower Back
When you have back discomfort, the last thing you want to do is stretch. But stretching and strengthening the muscles that support your lower spine will relieve tension, improve mobility, and prevent future flare-ups.
I recommend holding each of these lower back stretches for 30-60 seconds on each side, 1-2 times per day. move slowly into each stretch until you feel mild tension. Do NOT push into pain!
Kneeling Lumbar Stretch
This stretch targets tight hip flexors (psoas muscles):
- Kneel on your right knee. Place your left foot in front of you, bending your knee at a 90-degree angle.
- Engage your core, tighten your glutes (buttocks), and tilt your hips forward until you feel a mild stretch in the front of your right hip.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds, then switch sides.
Helps improve posture by preventing excessive arching of the lower back. Also stretches the psoas muscle, which can contribute to lumbar disc issues when tight.
This stretch increases spinal mobility and loosens the deep muscles surrounding the lumbar spine:
- Sit up tall with both legs straight in front of you. Engage your core.
- Bend your left knee and place your left foot flat on the floor across your right leg.
- Twist your upper body to the left, bringing your right elbow to rest gently outside your left thigh. Turn your head to the left also.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds then repeat on the opposite side.
Increases mobility of the spine while stretching and strengthening the deep spinal muscles. Can help relieve pinched nerves.
Child’s pose provides a gentle, soothing stretch for the entire backside of the body:
- Kneel on the floor with your knees about hip-width apart.
- Lower your hips toward your feet then stretch your arms forward along the mat with your forehead resting on the floor.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds, focusing on relaxing your lower back.
Gently decompresses the lower spine. Stretches muscles on the backside of the body including the glutes, hamstrings, and muscles alongside the spine.
Knees to Chest
This move stretches the lower back without putting pressure on the lumbar discs:
- Lie on your back with both legs extended. Bend your knees, keeping your feet on the floor.
- Pull one knee toward your chest until you feel a mild stretch in your lower back.
- Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs and repeat.
Stretches the muscles alongside the lower spine (quadratus lumborum) without compressing the lumbar discs like a traditional back bend would.
Additional Tips for a Healthy Lower Back
While the above stretches are a great starting point, the following lifestyle adjustments can go a long way toward relieving and preventing low back discomfort:
- Practice good posture: Stand and sit tall, engage your core, and avoid slouching forward.
- Exercise regularly: Low-impact, whole-body workouts enhance core strength and flexibility.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Extra pounds overload the spine and contribute to muscle strain.
- Quit smoking: Smoking impedes blood flow, delaying disc and muscle healing.
- Stress less: Mental tension manifests physically as muscle tightness and spasm.
- Use proper body mechanics: When bending and lifting, keep your back straight and engage your legs and core.
- Consider orthotics: Custom shoe inserts can help correct posture and alignment issues contributing to back pain.
- See a massage therapist: Massage loosens tight back muscles and improves circulation.
I hope you found these lower back stretches and tips helpful! By taking just a few minutes each day to loosen your hips, relax your core, and gently mobilize your spine, you can keep your back healthy and happy for years to come.