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8 Best Stretches for Lower Back Pain

best stretches for lower back pain

Stretches are beneficial movements which can help relieve lower back pain, particularly in the short term. By holding these stretches for some time, tension through the muscles and the stiffness to the spine can ease.

However, some stretches may be more effective than others. Interestingly, everybody’s bodies will react differently to specific movements depending on their tolerance and preference. Below are the 8 best stretches for lower back pain that can provide instant pain relief and comfort.

1. Cobra Stretch

The Cobra is a commonly performed anti-flexion stretch. Flexion is the act of body being positioned with the trunk and hips bent forward. Examples of flexion-based actions include sitting and bending forward.

If you are frequently in these positions like working a desk job or driving often, excessive strain can begin to accumulate in the structures of the back. In less common instances, repetitive or sudden trunk flexion can even lead to herniated or bulging discs.

The Cobra stretch helps counteract this strain and takes the pressure off the structures in the back. Those who work in seated and sedentary occupations, such as accountants and computing, will find these stretches extremely beneficial.

Instructions

Start the Cobra facing downwards with bent elbows by your side and palms facing down. Pushing up from your hands, lift and arch your upper body until you feel a stretch in the back. Sustain this position for 3 seconds for 10-15 repetitions. Perform 3 or more sets daily.

Common Mistake(s) to Avoid

Avoid pushing up too high or hard. The Cobra should be a gentle stretch and should not cause lots of pain.

2. Threading the Needle

Threading the needle is an excellent rotation stretch for the mid and lower back. The mid-back is referred to as the thoracic spine and is primarily responsible for our trunk’s ability to twist and turn. Any type of stiffness through this region can accompany low back stiffness and pain.

People who are either inactive or sit for long periods will experience a lot of tension through the mid-back, especially in slumped postures. Interestingly, stiffness through the mid-back can mask as low back pain.

Threading the needle helps unlock and open up your thoracic spine as you begin to stretch out. Additionally, Threading the Needle also helps stretch multiple areas of the body, including your shoulders, upper back, and hips. For those lacking time, you can help ease the tension throughout your body by performing just this one exercise.

Instructions

Begin with both hands and knees on the ground with a flat back. Starting with either side, lift your hand from the floor and begin rotating the torso through the opposite side. Once you have reached your limit, you may stretch through with the shoulders and hips. Perform at least 10-15 repetitions on both sides for 3 sets.

Common Mistake(s) to Avoid

Although Threading the Needle helps stretch multiple areas of the body, its primary aim is to unlock the mid-back. Some people tend to stretch their shoulders or hips without moving their bodies. Unfortunately, this defeats the purpose of the exercise.

3. Lumbar Nerve Flossing Stretch

The flossing stretch is a “neurodynamic exercise,” which helps reduce pain and discomfort for nerve-related back injuries, such as sciatica. If you experience any traveling pain from the low back to the legs, performing these exercises can be beneficial. Examples of such pain(s), include sciatica which manifests as numbness or aching sensation down towards the leg(s).

The main focus of this exercise is to help glide or stretch the irritated nerves which run down from the back and into the legs. Research has shown that performing these flossing exercises allows the affected nerve(s) to move more efficiently and reduce discomfort.

Instructions

Start seated in a slumped position with hands behind back. Simultaneously, lift your head and affected leg up. You should feel a pulling sensation running from the back down towards your leg. Raise your ankle towards yourself to provide an extra stretch.

Common Mistake(s) to Avoid

This is a rather strange stretch which can confuse people initially. Two commonly observed mistakes can include: not lifting the head & leg in unison and not starting in a slumped position. Try to follow the video above carefully and start the exercise slowly. Hold this stretch for 3 seconds and repeat 10-15 repetitions.

4. Glute Stretch

Inactive and tight glute muscles can contribute to poor posture and low back pain. There are particularly sensitive structures in this area, such as the sciatic nerve, which can be compressed if these muscles spasm or tighten.

Stretching the glute will help relieve the tension and tightness experienced by these muscles and can improve your posture. However, tightness in this area is another indication that these muscles lack strength and endurance. Bodyweight and resistance exercises, such as bridges and squats, should be performed in conjunction with stretching.

Instructions

Start lying down with knees bent upwards. Bring the outside ankle (of the leg you want to stretch), above the knee of the rested leg. Using your arms, reach forward and grab the rested leg. Pull this leg up towards yourself to help stretch the glute. You should feel the area behind the bottom begin to loosen. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and repeat around 3 sets daily.

Common Mistake(s) to Avoid

Some people will be confused about which glute is supposed to be stretched. Ensure that you are stretching the leg that is on top of the other one. The rested leg on the ground is only there to act as leverage.

5. Pelvic Tilts

When performed correctly, pelvic tilts can be tremendously beneficial for low back pain. Pelvic tilts encourage better lumbopelvic mobility, which describes the relationship between the low back and pelvis. Typically, these two regions work in unison to help you perform any lower limb activities, such as running or walking.

During any type of lower limb movement, the lumbopelvic region will go through two distinct phases. These phases are called anterior pelvic tilt and posterior pelvic tilt. In simple terms, anterior pelvic tilt refers to the rotation of the pelvis towards your backside, while the posterior pelvic is the opposite movement. When these movements are stiff, the lower back may compensate and experience additional strain.

Pelvic tilt exercises are subtle movements that strengthen your body’s abdominal and low back muscles. For those who feel that their back is always “stiff” or “tight,” these small movements can encourage fluidity through the spine. Improving the flexibility and strength of the surrounding back muscles

Instructions

Begin with both hands and knees on the ground with a flat back. There will be two main movements through this pelvic tilt exercise – anterior and posterior pelvic tilt. During anterior pelvic tilt, initiate movement through your hips by gently rotating the bottom towards the ceiling. You can transition into posterior pelvic tilt by drawing the pelvis towards the floor. Sustain both positions for 3 seconds. Perform 10-15 repetitions in both directions for 3 sets.

Common Mistake(s) to Avoid

Frequently, this exercise is mistakenly performed as the cat-camel exercise. Instead of rotating the pelvis backward and forwards, some individuals may feel that they’re arching their mid and upper back.

6. Lumbar Rotation Stretch

Although bending forwards and backward are regular movements of the spine, it can also bend sideways and rotate. For those who are relatively inactive (e.g., prolonged sitting), areas around the low back pain can become tight and stiffen up. These regions include the muscles of the back, abdominals, and spinal joints.

The lumbar rotation stretch allows these structures of the low back to loosen and provide relief. It can be performed conveniently and on any flat surface. When stretched correctly, this movement can help reduce the tension from the opposite side of the back and unlock the stiffness from the spine. Sometimes you may hear cracks and pops from the spine, which provide additional relief.

Instructions

Begin lying on your back with your knees up. With your bent legs close together, slowly rotate your knees to the side. Keep your torso throughout the movement. Hold the stretch for 3-5 seconds. Perform 10-15 repetitions, 3 sets per day.

Common Mistake(s) to Avoid

Make sure that you are fully stretching the middle to lower back region instead of shifting the pelvis to the side. The shallow rocking of the hips will not provide you the full benefit(s) of a stretch.

7. Knee-to-Chest Stretch

The knee to chest stretch is an anti-extension stretch, which is the complete opposite of the cobra stretch. Extension refers to moments where the body is upright or bent backward. Examples of extension-based movements include standing and walking.

Similar to excessive flexion-based movements, continually being in extension-based positions can aggravate low back pain. Over time, excessive stiffness and strain can build-up in the structures of the back, including the joints and the musculature.

The knee to chest stretch helps provide relief through these structures. Those who experience low back pain while standing or walking for extended periods will find relief when performing these movements.

Instructions

Begin lying on your back with both your knees bent and feet on the ground. Slowly bring each leg up to your chest and sustain this position for 3 second. Alternate leg and repeat. Perform for 10 repetitions, 3 sets per day.

Common Mistake(s) to Avoid

When rotating the back, attempt to lower the knees as close to the floor as possible. If your knees do not go deep enough, the back will not be able to stretch substantially.

8. Child’s Pose

Like the knee to chest stretch, the child’s pose is also considered an anti-extension stretch. Similarly, this is an excellent exercise that can provide relief for those who experience low back pain while standing or walking.

Not only does the child’s pose stretch the lower back but also other areas, including the shoulders, arms, and mid-back. During this stretch, you will be able to feel it gradually loosening up the whole body. You can control the degree of the stretch by how far you reach out with your shoulders.

Instructions

Start the stretch while kneeling. While you guide your bottom to your feet, begin to reach forward with both your shoulders. The further you attempt to reach, the greater the degree of the stretch. Hold this stretch for 3-5 seconds. Perform 10-15 repetitions for 3 sets daily.

Common Mistake(s) to Avoid

Ensure that your bottom settles down towards the heel of the feet. If the bottom isn’t lowered enough, the degree of the stretch will be limited.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to provide general education and some recommended stretches for lower back pain. Please cease these exercises if they are continuing to aggravate your symptoms. If you have low back pain, please consult your primary healthcare practitioners such as a medical doctor or physical therapist.

Written by Leon Mao, Doctor of Physiotherapy (DPT)

Leon is an Australian physiotherapist who specializes in working with musculoskeletal conditions. He graduated from the University of Melbourne with his Doctorate in Physiotherapy before entering the workforce. He is now consulting from Top to Toe Health as a clinical and telehealth physiotherapist and primarily works with office-based workers and athletes.

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