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Best Stretches for Lower Back Pain

Woman with Lower Back Pain

Stretches to Relieve Low Back Pain 

Authored by Julia Drake – Fitness Instructor at Hilton Head Health

Stretching is a simple and easy to learn practice to help relieve low back pain.  It can be done anywhere and at any time, performed standing, in a chair, or on the floor.  According to the American Chiropractic Association, 31 million Americans experience low back pain at any given time*.  This being said, if you’re experiencing low back pain, you are not alone!  We’re here to guide you through three easy stretches from either a chair or on the floor to help relieve low back pain.  

What Can Cause Low Back Pain?  

The human back is a very complex structure.  It houses the spine, which is made up of 33 individual bones called vertebrae.  Just like every other bone in our body, these vertebrae have muscles attached to them.  These muscles then attach to other bones, which have other muscles attached to them, and so on.  All of the bones and muscles in our entire body are connected.  Just like a string of Christmas lights – if one fuse blows, it can burn the entire string all the way to the end.  So if one muscle is tight, it can affect an entirely different muscle in the body.  For this reason, often times the culprit for lower back pain can be tight muscles surrounding the back.  Here are some stretches to lengthen not only the back muscles but also its surrounding muscles to relieve low back pain.  

Three Stretches to Help Relieve Low Back Pain 

(If you experience any intense sharp or electric pain, or an increase in current back pain while performing these stretches, discontinue stretches and consult your doctor) 

Cat/Cow Stretch

The Cat/Cow is a great exercise to start with because it slowly “wakes up” the low back muscles with gentle movement.  This movement encourages blood flow to the area, loosening the muscles to work out any stiff kinks. 

Cat Cow Stretch for Lower back pain

To perform the cat/cow standing: 

  • Start standing tall behind the back of your chair. 
  • Holding onto your chair for support, start with the “cat”.  Take a deep breath in, and simultaneously tuck the tailbone under your body in towards the chair, and round the spine away from the chair.  
  • Then transition into the “cow”. On your exhale, curl the spine to create that “C” shape, and lift the tailbone and eyes up towards the ceiling. 

To perform the cat/cow from the mat:  

  • Start on the mat, on your hands and knees. Make sure your wrists are directly under your shoulder and your knees are directly under your hips.  
  • Start with the “cat”. Take a deep breath in, and simultaneously tuck the tailbone under your body and round the spine up to the ceiling.  
  • Then transition right into the “cow”. On your exhale, curl the spine in to create a “C” shape and lift the tailbone and eyes up to the ceiling. 

Repeat this exercise 10 times.  

Hamstring Stretch 

Remember our Christmas Lights analogy? The hamstring muscle is attached to the pelvis (the hips!), which is attached to the low back muscles. A physical therapist once told me that 80% of their patients with lower back pain were diagnosed with tight hamstrings.  If the hamstring muscles are tight, it can tug on the pelvis, and possibly lead to tiring pain in the low back muscles.  

Hamstring Stretch for Lower Back Pain

To perform the hamstring stretch seated:  

  • Start seated in a chair.  
  • Take one leg out in front of you with the heel on the floor. Keep the leg straight and the foot flexed (toes pointing up towards the ceiling.) 
  • Keep the chest high and back flat as you hinge the hips forward, as far as you can until you feel the stretch in the back of your thigh.  

To perform the hamstring stretch from the mat: 

  • Start in a comfortable seated position on the floor, you decide whether that’s legs crossed or legs straight. You can even use a pillow or cushion to sit on.  
  • Start with one leg out in front of you, with the leg straight and the foot flexed (toes pointing up towards the ceiling).  
  • Keep the chest high and back flat as you hinge the hips forward, reaching your hands towards the ankle, as far as you can until you feel the stretch in the back of your thigh.  
  • It doesn’t matter how far you reach, as long as you keep the leg straight and foot flexed the entire time. 

Hold this stretch for at least 30 seconds to 2 minutes, then repeat with the other leg.  

Child’s Pose Stretch

Child’s pose is the perfect stretch to end with because it is the complete package of both stretch and relaxation.  Prolonged stress can cause our bodies to subconsciously tense our muscles, contributing to muscle tightness. This stretch naturally calms the body, allowing our muscles to relax and sink deeper into the stretch.   

Child's Pose Stretch for Lower Back Pain

To perform the child’s pose standing: 

  • Start standing behind the back of your chair, with your hands on top of the chair.  Make sure your chair is sturdy enough to safely support you.  If not, you can also use a countertop.  
  • Take a deep breath in. On your exhale, let the hips sink back as far as you comfortably can, while the shoulders and head relax.   
  • Let your bodyweight pull your hips back, creating a stretch in your shoulders and back muscles.  
  • For an extra stretch, shift your hips to one side by twisting at the torso. Repeat with the other hip. 

To perform the child’s pose from the mat: 

  • Start on your hands and knees on your mat, and take a deep breath in. 
  • On your exhale, sit the hips back into the heels, allowing the head and shoulders to drop to the mat.  
  • Keeping your arms straight out in front of you, reach as far as you can.  
  • Hold here and breathe, allowing your head and shoulders to sink deep into the mat. 
  • For an extra stretch, keep your body stationary and slowly walk your hands as far as you can to one side.  Repeat on the other side. 

Hold this stretch for at least 30 seconds to 2 minutes.  

Julia Drake
Fitness Instructor at Hilton Head Health

Click here for more information about the wellness and weight loss programs at Hilton Head Health, recently named the #1 Wellness Resort the Country by USA Today

Citation: 

“Back Pain Facts and Statistics.” American Chiropractic Association , American Chiropractic Association , www.acatoday.org/Patients/What-is-Chiropractic/Back-Pain-Facts-and-Statistics/Back-Pain-Facts-and-Statistics