Lower back muscles are constantly working. From standing and sitting to lifting and reaching, these muscles allow us to bend, twist, and move in many directions. But as they are not always activated like other major muscle groups, lower back muscles tend to weaken with age, which can result in injury and pain.
Affecting both men and women equally, it is estimated that up to 80% of adults experience lower back pain at some point in their life. While the pain can be intense, stretching these muscles can often help alleviate the tension.
To help you loosen up, we’ll take a look at some of the common causes of back pain and show you how to stretch your lower back to ease the discomfort.
What Causes Lower Back Pain?
Back pain comes on quickly and can last for many weeks. While it can sometimes be difficult to identify the underlying cause, repeated lifting or awkward movements are often to blame. The pain can be debilitating, making daily activities and even simple movements difficult.
The most common cause of lower back pain is a torn or pulled muscle, often the result of twisting the spine, poor posture, or an injury. Other less common causes include:
- Ruptured or herniated discs
- Skeletal irregularities
How to Stretch Your Lower Back
While many people turn to powerful painkillers or even surgery to deal with back pain, others find relief by stretching. Incorporating stretching into your daily routine can ease back pain while increasing your flexibility and strength to prevent further injury.
Before starting any new exercise, it is important to check with your doctor if the movements are suitable for your injury.
When performing these stretches, start out slowly. Give your muscles time to warm up and ease into each movement. Never push your muscles past what is comfortable or you could risk further injury.
To stretch your lower back, repeat each of the below movements for 2 to 3 minutes before moving on to the next one. Try to stretch for at least 10 minutes at first and gradually build up time as the movements become more natural.
Knee to Chest Stretch
Lie on your back with your arms by your side and legs extended. Raise your knees to your chest, place one hand on each knee and slowly pull your knees towards your chest.
Try to relax your legs, back, and pelvis, and feel the muscles stretch as they release tension. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds before slowly lowering your legs to the ground.
If you find it difficult to raise both knees, start by holding each leg separately.
Lower Back Twist
To start, lie on your back with your knees bent and arms in a T position. With your shoulders touching the floor, roll your knees to one side so they touch the floor and hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Return to the center and repeat on the other side.
Sometimes called trunk rotation, this stretch targets the glutes and lower back. If you find it difficult for your knees to reach the floor, place a pillow on each side for support.
This is a common yoga position and a great way to stretch your back, shoulders, and neck. Start on all fours with your palms shoulder-width apart and knees under your hips. Reach out and place your palms flat on the floor in front of you and slowly drop your hips towards your heels.
While in a seated position, lower your head and drop your chest as you extend your arms forward and stretch. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds before returning to the starting position.
A great way to undulate the spine, Cat/Cow is another yoga pose that can be used to stretch your lower back. As with the child’s pose, get on all fours and start with your back parallel to the floor.
Drawing your abdominal muscles up, arch your back as high as you can comfortably go, mimicking a cat’s stretch. Hold for 5 seconds before slowly pushing your abdominals towards the floor and arching your back in the other direction.
Repeat for two to three minutes, breathing in as you push your abs to the floor, and out as you arch your back up.
Start by lying on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. With your lower back muscles relaxed, engage your core to press your lower back to the floor as your exhale, tilting your pelvis. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds before inhaling and returning to the starting position.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Lower back pain can sometimes be the result of tight hip muscles. To release tight hip flexors, start with your hands and feet flat on the floor. Slowly step your right foot to the outside of your right hand while dropping your left knee to the floor. Keeping your back straight and hands on the ground, press your hips forward to feel the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
Bring your right foot back to the start while raising your left knee, and repeat on the other side.
Sometimes called lumbar extension, the cobra pose can help stretch the abdominal and lower back muscles. To start, lie on your stomach with forearms flat to the floor, resting your weight on your elbows. Keeping your hips on the ground, slowly straighten your elbows and push your body upwards.
Push until you reach a comfortable stretch of the back and abdominals and hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Exhale as you release the stretch and return to the starting position.
Stretching should alleviate pain, not cause it. To avoid additional injury, be careful not to push your muscles past a comfortable stretch.
It can take a few days to see results from stretching, so don’t get disheartened if your pain doesn’t go away overnight. However, if you experience chronic pain lasting more than 3 months, consult a doctor or physical therapist for advice.
Stretching is a great way to relieve lower back pain. But in order for it to have any effect, you need to stretch daily. To start making it a habit, try stretching first thing in the morning. The increased blood flow will help kick start your day while relaxing tight muscles and easing your pain.
Now that you know how to stretch your lower back, create a routine from the above movements. For best results, repeat each exercise multiple times and aim to stretch for at least 15 minutes twice a day.