16 stretches for lower back pain you can do at work or at home￼
When experiencing lower back pain, exercise is often the number one prescription for both treatment and prevention. While some lower back pain exercises focus on stretching and lengthening, others look at strengthening the muscles of the spine and abdomen for better support. Here are our favorite stretches for lower back pain, for both stretching and strengthening key muscles of the back. If you have a small quiet space at work, you can do many of these in just a few minutes. We’ve also included suggestions when you can modify for your chair. As always, talk with your doctor before attempting any of these stretches for lower back pain as some could aggravate your condition. If you’re not sure how to go through these stretches, it may be best to have a session with a physical therapist or highly-qualified personal trainer to show you how to do the motions correctly.
One of the best ways to encourage a healthier, pain-free back long term is by strengthening the muscles that support your core. Here’s where to get started.
Many people perform a million crunches to increase strength in their abdomen to support a healthy lower back, but crunches are ineffective for strengthening deep core muscles at best and can increase lower back pain at worst. Try un-crunches instead.
Lie on your back with knees bent. On an exhale, press your navel to your spine as you reach your arms towards the ceiling, raising only your head and shoulders off the floor. Hold for one or two breaths and lower down. Keep your head in line with your shoulders (don’t strain forward). Repeat until feeling fatigued, at least once a day.
Lie on your stomach with legs stretched out long and arms resting comfortably at your sides, palms facing down. Lengthen your tailbone down towards your heels. Inhale deeply, and on the exhale, tighten the muscles of your left buttock to raise your left leg.
Hold for two or three breaths, then lower down. Make your movements slow, and repeat until fatigued, once a day.
Start on hands and knees, with wrists directly below shoulders and knees directly below hips. On an inhale, extend your right hand in front of you as you lift and extend your left leg out behind you. Keep toes of both feet flexed, tailbone extending down to engage the lower belly. Crown of the head should extend forward with a long neck.
Stay here, or add some abdominal work. Inhale and extend fully, then on an exhale, bring your right elbow and left knee to touch. As you exhale, press your navel all the way back to your spine. Complete five touches and then repeat on the opposite side.
Do this series once a day.
Plank pose is a simple pose that can completely change the front of your body. While it may seem strange to focus on abdominals for a strong back, weak abdominal muscles force the back muscles to do all of the heavy lifting. Stronger abs will help keep the spine aligned and ease the strain on the muscles of the lower back.
Come to a high push-up position with hands directly below shoulders. Take some time to press down into the knuckles of the hands to minimize strain on the wrists. Legs extend back, about hip’s width distance apart. Press back through the heels (which should be perpendicular to the floor). Keep hips raised so they are in line with the shoulders.
Bring shoulder blades onto the back and lengthen your tailbone down to engage the lower belly. Hold, starting with as many seconds as you can properly hold this form and gradually adding on time in the pose.
If wrists become painful, this pose can be performed with forearms on the ground. Practice this pose daily, working up to three minutes of plank every day.
Just as plank pose revolutionizes the front of your body, side planks can help reactivate and strengthen dormant muscles along the sides of the body. These muscles are great stabilizers for balance and strength.
Start by lying on your left side with your forearm resting on the floor, elbow directly beneath your shoulder. Right leg should be stacked directly on top of the left leg. If balance is tricky to begin with, you can rest your right foot on the floor slightly in front of the left foot. Lengthen your tailbone down towards the feet to engage the lower abs.
On an inhale, press into your forearm and engage the muscles of your abdomen to slowly lift your hips off the floor as high as possible. Lower on an exhale. Repeat as many times as you can maintain proper form. Repeat on the opposite side.
Bridge pose is a great way to strengthen the entire length of the back while giving the abs and hip flexors a good stretch. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Feet should be hip’s width distance apart with toes facing straight forward and close enough to the body that you can graze your heels with your fingertips. Hands can be resting at your sides.
Lengthen your tailbone down towards your heels. On an inhale, raise your hips. Try to distribute the effort across the entire lower back, not just in the buttocks. Press the back of your head into the mat or the floor, maintaining a curve in the neck (so it is not flat on the floor). Hold for five breaths, then lower slowly. Repeat as many times as you can maintain proper form.
Come into bridge pose as above. On an inhale, lift one leg and raise it to the ceiling. Continue to lengthen your tailbone down to engage the abs and keep the back body firm. Replace that foot on an exhale and raise the other leg.
Lie on your stomach with forearms on the ground, elbows in line with shoulders and hands pointing forward. Lengthen tailbone down towards heels. Lift the left leg slightly and spin the inseam up and toward the sky. Lengthen out through the toes of that foot and place it down. Repeat with the other foot.
Inhale and feel the crown of your head reaching towards to sky, lengthening out through the crown and extending through the feet evenly. Exhale and let your heart press forward. If you feel any pain in your lower back, engage the tailbone, lengthening down so much that you feel your hips lift slightly.
Come into sphinx as above. On an exhale, press into the tops of the feet and lengthen the tailbone down to raise your hips, thighs, and knees off the ground. Hold for an inhale, then exhale and lower. Repeat as often as you can maintain proper form.
In this video, personal trainer Lindsey takes a weightlifter through a back-strengthening workout to help him correct training errors and strengthen lower back muscles.
While strength is absolutely necessary to maintain a healthy lower back, lower back pain exercises that include stretching are also a must. Muscles of the lower back need to be lengthened while they are strengthened to build a strong, long, and healthy spine. Here are six stretches for lower back pain.
Child’s pose is one of the very first lower back pain exercises to try that gently stretches tight or contracted muscles. Gravity and breath does most of the work in this pose. Come to all fours. Bring your big toes to touch and open your knees a little wider. Sink back onto your heels and let your abdomen rest on or between your thighs. Arms can stretch out on the floor in front of you or come down along your sides. If your forehead does not quite reach the ground, use a book or a yoga block to rest it on.
If you find that this hurts your knees, you can support your knees with a rolled up blanket or a pillow behind them before sitting back. You can also place a yoga block between your feet to sit on. Breathe deeply and evenly, imagining the breath traveling into your back and releasing tight muscles. Stay here for as long as it feels good.
For people who finding standing to be too painful, a figure 4 stretch can be a great way to find relief from pain in the lower back and hip. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Feet should be hip’s width distance apart and close enough to the body so that you can graze your heels with your fingertips.
Pick up your right foot and place your right ankle on your left knee. Thread your right hand between your thighs to clasp behind the hamstring. Inhale here, then on an exhale, press your navel to your spine and lift the bottom foot, bringing the shape to you. Keep both feet flexed to keep the legs active and engaged, and lengthen your tailbone down towards where your feet were on the floor. Breathe into the stretch, holding for five to ten long, steady breaths. Repeat on the other side.
To get in some stretches for lower back pain at work, you can also do this one while sitting in your office chair.
Another lower back pain exercise that you can complete while lying down is one of the simplest. Lie on your back. Inhale deeply, and on an exhale bring both knees into your chest, holding them with your arms. You can stay here if this feels good, or you can give yourself a spinal massage by making circles with your knees or rocking from side to side.
The piriformis is a muscle that runs deep within the buttocks. If this muscle is injured or contracted, sciatica pain can result. Stretches for lower back pain should include this stretch even if the pain is not in this muscle, as a healthy piriformis makes for a happy and supported back.
Lie on the back with both legs extended and arms out in a “T.” Inhale, and on the exhale, move your navel towards your spine and draw your right leg into your chest. Inhale here, then on the exhale extend the leg up to the sky and release it across the body (to the left).
- Keep both hips on the ground and use a strap looped around the ball of the right foot. Let the leg cross the body only as far as you can keep both hips on the ground. If you have a tight piriformis, this may not be a big movement, but doing this daily will yield big results.
- Treat this stretch more like a twist and let the hips stack as the right leg reaches towards the ground. Use pillows or yoga blocks to prop the leg up if it doesn’t quite reach the ground.
Whichever method you choose, breathe deeply into what is opening. Hold for five to ten deep, even breaths, then repeat on the other side.
A lunge may seem counterintuitive when working on stretches for lower back pain, but a lunge releases the hip flexors at the front of the leg. Some lower back pain is caused by poor posture with the pelvis tucked under. This shortens the hip flexors in the front and does not allow a person to restore their natural, healthy lumbar curve.
Stand with feet hip’s width distance apart. Take a big step forward with the right leg, bending into the front knee and coming onto the balls of the foot of the left leg. To protect your knees, make sure that the front knee is directly over the front ankle (and not bending in front of it).
Drop the back knee to the floor, and bring your hands to your front knee. Push evenly out through the front shin and the heel of the back foot. To protect your lower back, lengthen your tailbone down towards the ground as you reach with the front shin and back heel. Inhale, coming out of the lunge a little, then exhale and settle back in. Repeat this action for five to ten breaths, then switch legs.
This is another easy supine lower back pain exercise that stretches and relaxes all of the muscles of the body. Scoot yourself as close as you can to the wall, with one hip touching and knees bent. Lean back onto your forearms to swing your legs up and onto the wall. Your buttocks should be as close to touching the wall as possible, so pull yourself closer if possible and you are flexible in your hamstrings. If it’s not comfortable, feel free to move back and bend your knees.
Another variation of this pose is supported legs up the wall, a restorative and deeply relaxing variation that feels great after a long day. This also promotes restful sleep and can help you deal with stress. Check out this video from Yoga International to learn how to do this pose correctly.
Whichever version you choose, breathe deeply and relax here for five to ten minutes.
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