A backache is like a toothache — day and night, no matter what you’re doing, there it is, gnawing away at your nerves.
You can’t sit without pain. Or stand. Or lie down, walk, run, work out, or anything else.
If it’s been long enough, you may have even forgotten what it’s like to live without the aching.
Well, in this article, I want to help you get relief by sharing with you some of the common causes for lower back pain along with the best 7 lower back stretches you can do.
Like any exercises, these stretches won’t necessarily deliver instant and dramatic results, but if you’re consistent with them, you should see marked improvements within a few weeks.
And if you’re here for preventative reasons — not because you’re in pain but because you want to keep your lower back loose and feeling good– then you’ve come to the right place, too.
Statistically, there’s an 80% chance you’ll experience lower back pain at some point in your life.
Follow the advice in this article and do these lower back stretches regularly, though, and it might never darken your door.
So, with that, let’s get to it.
Table of Contents
Be it a dull, endless ache or a sharp, unexpected jolt that leaves you laid up, back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
It afflicts one in every ten people at any given time and this statistic is on the rise.
Here in America, low back pain is now the third biggest health-wrecker, after heart disease and lung disease, respectively, with 25% of us Yanks having experienced the condition in the past three months.
Why is back pain so pandemic? Why do we find it in people of all ages and circumstances?
Well, it starts here:
On average, we sit close to 8 hours per day — and some of us as many as 15 hours.
It’s like our lives are an 80-year-long tribute to being seated — that we were born to sit down.
We take a seat to eat breakfast and slouch into our cars for our morning commutes. We toil at our desks by day and slump on the couch by night.
What’s wrong with this picture, you wonder?
By spending so much time in a chair, our hip muscles become tighter and shorter, our hamstrings become less elastic, and our glutes go to sleep. And when all that happens, our lower back has to pick up the slack and do more than its fair share of work to hold us upright.
In short, a static deskbound lifestyle almost guarantees that, sooner or later, you’ll have a sore lower back.
There are a myriad of non-seated activities that add stress to the back as well, ranging from awkward bending and twisting to standing for long periods to sleeping in funky positions and even coughing or sneezing violently.
Unfortunately, our backs are besieged and beleaguered by every day living, whether we realize or feel it yet or not.
And then us fitness folk add other things to the mix that amplify the stress on our backs, like…
- Heavy weightlifting
- High-intensity interval training
- A propensity to overtrain
- Spotty form on key exercises like the squat and deadlift
And that’s especially true for those of us that are in denial about the state of our lower backs and that think that “no pain no gain” has anything to do with getting big and strong.
So, the bottom line is this:
If you want to keep your back healthy and functional, then you want to sit less, move more, and do the right lower back stretches.
You should also know that doing a little bit of exercise every day isn’t necessarily enough to counterbalance the consequences of sitting too much.
Instead, you should spend at least 5 minutes standing for every 30 minutes of sitting.
If you do that plus exercises that strengthen your core and back muscles (more on that in a minute) plus the stretches given in this article, you can save yourself from a world of pain and frustration.
Back pain comes down to how your muscles, ligaments, and bones interact with each other.
You see, your back is an intricate cluster of:
- 24 small bones that support the weight of your upper torso
- Shock-absorbing discs that pillow the bones and let the spine bend.
- Ligaments that clasp the vertebrae and discs together.
- Tendons to connect muscles to vertebrae.
- A spinal cord, which transmits nerve signals from the brain around your body.
Here’s how a lot of this looks:
Then there’s your lower back (referred to as the “lumbar” region of the spine), which is where most back pain happens.
It’s comprised of five vertebrae, which are the column of small bones that form your spine:
And here’s how it looks:
Because the lumbar spine is a complex interwoven structure, even the slightest damage to the ligaments, tendons, muscles or discs in this area can cause agony.
Sciatica is an example of this. If the sciatic nerve in your lower back gets pinched, pain can shoot down your leg and pulsate for days.
Muscular dysfunction can cause back pain as well.
You see, when two or more opposing muscles don’t contract and relax like they should, one becomes weak and slack while the other becomes overworked and tight.
In the case of the back, this can happen with the lower back and abdominal muscles, which are supposed to work synergistically to hold you upright.
If your lower back muscles are weak, though, it forces your core muscles to do more than their fair share to hold you upright.
This, in turn, causes your core to get tighter and tighter and pull more and more on your lower back, which eventually results in pain.
If the muscular imbalance isn’t corrected, a vicious cycle ensues: your tight stomach muscles grow ever-tighter, pulling on the lower back even more, exacerbating the pain.
Conversely, weak, poorly developed stomach muscles cause the spine to become off-kilter, which can result in lower back pain.
The solution is obvious:
Strengthen both your core and lower back muscles.
If you develop these muscles, it’ll go far in keeping your lower back pain free by giving your spine the muscular support it needs to function properly.
(And if you want a back workout that will do just that, check this article out.)
We can learn something very simple from a decade of research on yoga and lower back pain:
The easiest way to melt back pain away (and keep it away) is stretching.
This is why people with chronic lower back problems have seen their ailments disappear in just 20 minutes of yoga stretching each day.
And why research shows that stretching your back for just 60 seconds every 20 minutes that you spend seated can significantly improve your back health.
In a nutshell: the looser your back, hip, and leg muscles are, the better your lower back is going to fare.
I should also mention that being strong and lean helps as well.
You already know why strength matters (core and lower back muscles), and research shows there’s a clear association between obesity and lower back pain (the more top-heavy you are, the harder your lower back is going to have to work).
So, let’s get to best the lower back stretches.
You don’t have to do each of these stretches every day, by the way. I’d recommend that you try each and choose three or four that loosen up your back the best, and do those every day.
For me, it’s the Two-Knee Twist, Pigeon, and Thread the Needle.
Lying on your back with your arms spread out either side of you so that your body is in a T-shape, place your knees together then draw them up to your chest.
Now, with your shoulders pressing down firmly to the ground, slowly lower your knees to your left.
Hold for two minutes and bring your knees back to center, and repeat on the other side.
Note: If you find your knees are making your shoulders rise from the ground, lower your knees further down.
Lying on your stomach, with your forearms propping you up and elbows under your shoulders, press your weight down through your palms and the tops of your feet.
Squeeze your pelvis bone into the ground. Breathe deeply and hold for two to three minutes.
This one is great if you’re travelling in a car or on a plane and want to stop your lower back from cramping up.
Holding the left hand armrest of your seat, and keeping your back straight, turn the right side of your body towards the armrest, and hold for one minute.
Then do the same on the other side.
For bonus points: do the twist with your right elbow pointing into the outside of your left leg, and vice-versa.
Starting off on all-fours and facing the ground, raise your left knee under your chest so that it’s almost at 90-degrees under your torso.
Then, with your left hand placed over your right hand at eye level, lower your forehead to rest on your hands. Feel the stretch in your glutes.
Hold for three minutes then swap legs.
With your backside right up against a wall, raise your legs up and straight against it.
You’ll feel all the muscles of your lower back and upper thighs relax. Hold for 10 minutes.
Lying on your back, bend your left knee towards the ceiling, place a towel or strap around your left heel, then straighten the leg, while pressing out through your heel.
If your back begins to feel a bit uncomfortable, bend your right knee and place that heel on the ground near your backside for added support.
Hold for three minutes, do the same again with the other leg.
With your knees together facing the ceiling, cross your left leg over your right so that your left ankle is touching your right knee.
Now, interlocking your hands underneath your right knee, with your hands slowly draw your right knee towards your chest.
Feel the stretch in your left glute then hold for three minutes, before swapping sides.
Stretching isn’t particularly fun or sexy like working out or, uh, having sex, but it’s one of the easiest things you can do to keep your body in working order.
And in the case of the lower back, stretching can work wonders in dissolving and preventing tightness and pain.
Give these stretches a go and you’ll see for yourself.
What’s your take on lower back stretches? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
+ Scientific References
- Shiri R, Karppinen J, Leino-Arjas P, Solovieva S, Viikari-Juntura E. The association between obesity and low back pain: A meta-analysis. Am J Epidemiol. 2010;171(2):135-154. doi:10.1093/aje/kwp356
- Han H Il, Choi HS, Shin WS. Effects of hamstring stretch with pelvic control on pain and work ability in standing workers. J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2016;29(4):865-871. doi:10.3233/BMR-160703
- Chatchawan U, Jupamatangb U, Chanchitc S, Puntumetakul R, Donpunha W, Yamauchi J. Immediate effects of dynamic sitting exercise on the lower back mobility of sedentary young adults. J Phys Ther Sci. 2015;27(11):3359-3363. doi:10.1589/jpts.27.3359
- Rutten GM, Savelberg HH, Biddle SJ, Kremers SP. Interrupting long periods of sitting: good STUFF. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2013;10(1):1. doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-1