7 Best Stretches and Exercises for Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain is a symptom of several common conditions. Stiffness, soreness and aches in your hips and back are referred to as “axial lower back pain.” In addition to being uncomfortable, this type of pain can limit your daily activities and make everyday tasks feel difficult to complete. Low back pain is also a leading cause of job-related disability and missed work days.
Axial lower back pain may be common, but that doesn’t mean that you have to live in discomfort. A pain relief strategy that includes exercises you can do at home to strengthen and stretch your lower back muscles can help.
We asked Dr. Jacob Hascalovici, a neurologist and interventional pain medicine specialist and the Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer at Clearing, for exercises that are simple to do, require little to no equipment and can be done at any fitness level to help resolve back pain.
Most of these exercises are best done on a cushioned surface, like a yoga mat. If a mat isn’t available, a couple soft bath towels to support your backside will work just fine.
Here, we’ll be sharing the 7 best stretches and exercises for lower back pain and more, including:
- Cat cow stretch
- Piriformis stretch
- Seated spinal twist
- Triangle pose
- Knee rolls
- Happy baby
- Other exercises for lower back pain
Cat Cow Stretch
In yoga, the cat/cow pose is used to restore flexibility to your spine while helping you release muscle tension in your back. When your central spine is strong and flexible, it can help decrease lower back pain. A small 2015 study of women over 50 showed that regular yoga exercises that focused on back mobility increased flexibility in a statistically significant way.
How to do it:
- Start with your knees bent on the ground, shoulder-width apart, with your hands supporting your body.
- Spread your fingers apart to decrease pressure on your wrists.
- As you take a deep inhale, let your spine stay long as you lower your belly and look up. Hold for a few seconds.
- Then exhale and tuck your tailbone under, imagining your bellybutton drawing in toward your spine.
- Repeat the stretch as you feel the tension in your back relax.
The piriformis is a band of muscle that stretches from the top of your buttocks down to your hip. This muscle is important because it helps to stabilize your body while you walk or shift positions in your seat. The piriformis can spasm or become tight, which can compress your sciatic nerve and cause radiating pain. Stretching out this muscle helps keep it flexible.
How to do it:
- Start by laying flat on your back.
- Bend your left knee so that your foot is flat on the ground, and leave your right leg straight out.
- Roll back and forth on your buttocks, keeping your left knee bent.
- Repeat with your opposite leg.
Seated spinal twist
Weak abdominal muscles can contribute to poor posture, which can trigger or worsen back pain. That could be why core strength training appears to be more effective in reducing lower back pain than resistance training. This spinal twist exercise works to stretch the soft tissue that surrounds your spine while also strengthening your core.
How to do it:
- Sit tall on a yoga mat with your legs stretched out in front of you.
- Bring your arms up so that your hands are parallel with your shoulders.
- As you exhale, gently turn your body so that your left hand goes toward your right foot.
- Note that there’s no need to try to grab your foot or strain your back.
- Inhale and turn in the opposite direction.
- Repeat this stretch as needed.
Your hamstring muscles run from your lower back to behind your knee. When hamstring muscles get tight, they can actually pull your pelvis back and cause lower back pain. The triangle pose opens up your hamstrings with a gentle stretch, while also challenging your balance.
How to do it:
- Stand on your mat or a stable surface.
- Your feet should be wide apart, with your right leg pointed forward and your left toes at a 45 degree angle.
- Raise both arms up so they are parallel to the floor and aligned with your legs.
- Keeping your torso upright, exhale and stretch your right fingertips down toward the floor, behind your right leg, while your left fingers reach for the ceiling.
- Inhale to reset, bringing your arms parallel again.
- Reverse your feet and stretch the other side.
Knee rolls are a simple exercise meant to extend the range of motion in your lower back. This exercise also gives your lower back a gentle massage that can help release tension and relax all of the muscles in your spine. Knee rolls are a good back strengthening exercise for seniors, because they can be performed as slowly and as gently as you need to go.
How to do it:
- Lay on your back with your feet flexed and your knees bent.
- Keep your torso stable by placing your arms on the ground beside you as you slowly roll your knees over to one side so that your right knee touches the floor.
- Roll the knees slowly to the other side so that your left knee touches the floor, and repeat the stretch several times.
This yoga pose is meant to stretch your lower spine while also giving a good stretch to your hip flexors. If you spend a lot of time sitting down, this exercise can provide relief for the stiffness that can often surround your lower spine and pelvis.
How to do it:
- Lay on your back and bring your knees in toward your chest.
- Look up at the ceiling and keep your head and torso stabilized as you bring your feet up to a 90 degree angle with the ceiling.
- Reach forward and hold the inside or outside soles of your feet, pressing your knees gently deeper toward your chest and spread your feet wider apart as you exhale.
- As you rock your body back and forth, take several deep breaths to let this pose calm and stretch your body.
Other exercises for lower back pain
In addition to stretching and yoga, exercises that strengthen your muscles and cardiovascular symptoms may help prevent and manage your back pain. Low-impact exercises such as walking and swimming don’t put a lot of stress on your spine, so they can be a good start if you need to get into an exercise routine.
Biking outside or doing spin classes can also be a game-changer; one study showed that cycling for 20 minutes reduced pain perception for more than 30 minutes afterward for people with chronic lower back pain.
If you live with chronic back pain, lifting weights can be helpful in strengthening your spine and even improving your posture. Any strenuous weight-lifting routine should be approved by your doctor before you begin if you have any type of condition that can cause lower back pain, or if you are recovering from an injury.
You might also want to focus on building flexibility as a way of managing chronic lower back pain, especially for women. Exercises that build your flexibility can help you maintain your range of motion in addition to helping prevent osteoporosis. (Doing yoga for 12 minutes a day may even reverse bone loss caused by osteoporosis, in some cases.) In addition to the poses mentioned in this article, Dr. Hascalovici also recommends side stretches, child’s pose and head-to-knee pose.
How Clearing can help
Even though lower back pain may make everyday activities more difficult, finding ways to strengthen your core by doing exercises and stretches may help. If you are curious to learn more about more stretches you can do from the comfort of your home, why not give Clearing’s personalized home exercises a try? The videos are easy to follow and can be customized based on your level of activity and range of motion. Get started today by clicking the button below.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your individual needs and medical conditions.