A funny thing happened the other day; my son asked me what the best stretches for lower back pain are. He was pointing to his lower back, right above his butt. I asked him if his muscles felt tight in that area and confirmed that was the case.
I thought to myself; I write a blog about this, I can help. I can’t believe I had not actually written a post about this before. I walked back into my son’s room and thanked him for the idea. You just never know when or where ideas are going to come from.
My son is a teenager, and he had been at home doing homework most of the day. What a good kid, doing his homework on Saturday while my wife and I were out running errands. Even though he is a teenager, this still showed me that sitting for long periods can really contribute to tight muscles in the lower back.
He reads a lot of my blogs, and he also knows I have the first-hand experience with lower back pain. So when he asked me for some stretches he could do, I thought about that for a minute. It dawned on me that I have other posts with stretches for hamstrings, piriformis, etc., which are also helpful for back pain but this leads me to get into some stretches specifically for lower back tightness.
Early on, I couldn’t imagine doing yoga, or using a Chirp Wheel (it’s a yoga wheel to stretch and crack your back–see our Chirp Wheel Review if I’ve piqued your interest). I started with stretching, and if you’re having back pain, it’s a great place to start.
My back problems
I have dealt with back problems for most of my adult life, most recently a blown disc and a sprained SI joint. Check out my story.
Admittedly, I have not taken proper care of my body over the years, from the standpoint of someone who has back problems. I had back surgery in 1999 and continued with life just as I had before my surgery. I continued to do all the things I used to do, even after having surgery. I never really had any good advice, or anyone tells me what I should, or more importantly, should not be doing. Anyway, that is another story for another day.
In 2015, I had a pretty bad injury, as I eluded to above, with the blown disc and sprained SI joint. For the first time in my life, I went to a chiropractor, a very highly recommended chiro, who is all about building a strong core and working out to build and maintain muscle to hopefully prevent further injury. I was a mess when I started seeing him.
My need for stretching
I tell you all of this, to let you know that my muscles over the years have become really tight, which makes sense because that is the reaction to injury. I have never been one to stretch, and more importantly, taught how to properly stretch, with back problems. Stretching is something I have focused on with my recovery from injury this time.
So I do have tight muscles in my lower back, and these are some of the stretches I perform to help. I will tell you that not all stretches or exercises work for all people. These work for me, but may not work for you. It’s also best to check with your doctor before you begin any kind of workout or treatment plan. I have been in situations where stretching, improper for my situation, made my condition worse.
Stretching can be a really good thing for the muscles that support the spine, and you can improve range of motion.
When you perform a stretch, make sure you move into these stretches slowly and don’t bounce. You really don’t want to force your body into stretching positions. Stretching should be a good thing and feel good, not painful.
So, with that, let’s get into my favorites and some of the best stretches for lower back pain.
Knee to chest
This is a great stretch to work out the kinks in your mid and low back. It’s a nice all around stretch at the end of the day, whether you have been doing yard work, or sitting all day. Just a nice relaxing stretch for your lower back.
You can do knee-to-chest with each leg individually, or you can do this with both legs at the same time.
This stretch is especially good for me, dealing with spinal stenosis since it is a range of motion exercise, helping increase joint flexibility and reducing stiffness. I love this one!
This stretch helps to keep your low back limber. I definitely recommend doing this stretch on a mat, or on the carpet, as hard floors are not a great option for this.
- Lay on your back with arms and legs extended out on the floor
- Draw your knees to your chest and wrap your hands around your shins, if possible. Give yourself a big hug.
- You want to keep your back flat and let your shoulders relax
- The idea is to try to keep your spine lengthened and yet flat
- One thing I love to add to this stretch is rocking side to side to sort of give your low back a bit of a massage.
- Be sure to breathe while you are performing this stretch as well.
- I try to hold this for 15-30 seconds, rolling from side to side
- Try not to roll too far side to side. Otherwise, I may not be there to catch you 🙂
If you perform this stretch with each leg individually, there are a couple of ways to do this.
- You can keep one leg bent on the floor in front of you and the other leg you will bring to your chest.
- Or if you are feeling good with that, you can try extending the leg that is not pulled to your chest.
How you choose to do this will depend on how you feel, or what your doctor recommends.
With all of these options, try to relax as much as possible when you are performing this stretch, including your legs, pelvis, and low back.
This is a common resting pose in yoga, and I find it really good for my tight lower back. For people like me with tight back and hip muscles, it’s a challenge, even though it is really a beginner pose. Also, my shoulders are pretty tight, so that is also something I need to work on and this can help. I actually feel this in both my back and my abs, so I know both front and back are benefitting from this stretch.
Here are instructions on how I perform this exercise:
- Start out on all fours, on your hands and knees, shoulder width apart, in a tabletop position.
- Spread your knees to be about as wide as your mat. If you are not using a mat, then spread your knees a little bit wider than shoulder width
- Touch your toes together behind you
- Extend your arms out in front of you, keep your arms about shoulder width apart
- Sit back toward your heels
- If you are able, you can rest your forehead on the mat
- If you have shoulder problems, you can put your arms on the side of your body with your fingers back by your toes
- Hold this for again for about 20 seconds to start.
This is yet another common yoga pose that is great for lower back tightness. With cat-cow, you will literally perform a motion that looks like a cat arching it’s back and then move to a position that mimics a cow mooing.
- Again you will start on all fours in the table-top position
- As you inhale, you will tighten your core and round your back like a cat
- Hold this for a few seconds
- Exhale and arch your back, head up looking forward; this is the cow part
- Hold this for a few seconds as well
You can continue this sequence 5-10 times and more if you are progressing and feel like this is helpful.
Here is a very helpful video that will help you perform the Cat-Cow pose.
Well, that’s a wrap. These are three of my favorite stretches for lower back pain which have helped me out. Aside from the cat-cow stretch, which is more of a fluid motion stretch, you can concentrate on holding these stretches for 15-30 seconds and repeat them 2-5 times depending on how you feel.
If you feel any pain when you are performing these stretches, you should stop. You should check with a doctor before you begin any kind of exercise or treatment program. Again, these are stretches that I do, and they feel good to me. You may be in a different situation.