The Best Stretches to Relieve Lower Back Pain

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 – 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.

Please note that 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.

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
  • Fractures
  • Joint dysfunction
  • Deformities
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Pregnancy
  • Poor posture and lifestyle habits

This post will focus on dealing with the last point – lower back pain caused by poor posture.

The Problem of Too Much Sitting & a Sedentary Lifestyle

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As mentioned earlier, too much sitting or a sedentary lifestyle can be a contributor to lower back pain.

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.

Unsurprisingly lower back pain is a symptom of these traits.

How Stretching Can Help with Lower Back Pain

Stretching can help by easing the pain and tightness in the lower back.

When all the muscles imbalances mentioned above occur, 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!

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 we start looking at which stretches work the best, here are a couple of quick tips to make sure you get 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

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  • 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

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  • Kneel down and rest the front of your chest onto your thighs.
  • 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.
  • Relax and breathe

3. Forward Fold (Touching Your Toes)

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The video above provides a thorough explanation of how to perform a forward fold.

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.

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.
  • Breathe and feel the stretch
  • You can sway from side to side if it feels good.

4. Lying Knee to Chest Stretch

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To perform the lying knee to chest stretch:

  • Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor
  • Draw one knee towards your chest and keep your other foot in the same place.
  • As you draw your knee in towards your chest make sure to keep your lower back pressed against the floor.
  • Hold your knee for a couple of seconds then switch legs.

5. Lying Knee to Chest Twist Stretch

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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.

  • Lie on your back with your arms out to the side.
  • Draw both knees towards your chest and hold them at a 90-degree angle.
  • Using your outstretched hands to support your torso, drop both your legs to one side as you keeping them pressed up against one another.
  • When your legs reach the bottom hold before moving your legs to the other side.

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

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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

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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)

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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.

Related: How to stretch your 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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Related: How to stretch the quadratus lumborum.

How to Fix Lower Back Pain for Good

By performing these stretches frequently they should help relieve lower back pain, however, there are other tips to help increase your chances of success.

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 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.

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, oftentimes 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

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.

Related: Best myofascial release tools

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.

Either way, stretching is a great place to start for fixing your lower back pain and with a regular routine in place, you should feel better in no time.