Lower back pain can be lasting and debilitating. Minor aches can hinder even slight movements, while serious injuries can prevent motion altogether. Often, lower back pain stems from a muscle strain in the back, hips, buttocks, legs, or abdominals. Many exercises can help combat this common type of pain by helping build strength and stretch and relax the muscles. However, if you have an injury, you should run any stretches by your doctor before doing them. Also, remember that many of these stretches are for prevention and help, not cures—staying active, proper posture at work, and many other factors must be incorporated to prevent back pain from returning.

Child’s Pose

Child’s pose is a simple yoga pose that gently stretches the abdominal and back muscles, helping alleviate lower back pain. Begin in a tabletop position with hands directly under the shoulders and knees under the hips. Slowly walk the hands forward, keeping the palms flat.

The chest should drape across the thighs, curving the low back, the forehead rest on the ground (or a folded blanket if it doesn't quite reach), and the hips should sit gently toward the heels. Sit on a cushion or block if your seat does not come comfortably to the heels. Hold this pose for 20 to 30 seconds, breathing deeply into the side ribs and back.

woman doing child's pose yoga posture on a mat


Supine Twist or Lying Rotational Stretch

Sometimes, the gluteal muscles tighten, creating or worsening back pain. Stretches that work the glutes can be as important to back health as those that stretch the back. Lay on the floor facing upward and keep the knees bent. Lower the knees to the side with control, while keeping the shoulders on the floor. Place the knees on a block or pillow if the opposite shoulder lifts before the legs reach the ground. Hold this side for 10 seconds before switching.

This stretch is also ideal for conditions like sciatica, which can worsen when inflamed gluteal muscles press on the sciatic nerve.

yoga supine twist fizkes / Getty Images


Sitting Rotational Stretch

If lying on the floor is uncomfortable, this seated exercise stretches the oblique muscles, as well as some in the hips and legs. Sit on the floor, padding the seat if necessary, and extend the legs. Cross the right leg over the left and place the foot flat on the ground. Wrap the left arm around the right knee, or brace the elbow on the outside of the knee, and gently twist to the side of the bent knee on an exhale. Hold this position, breathing and sitting tall, for 10 seconds before repeating on the opposite side.

back rotate stretch stool DragonImages / Getty Images


Hamstring Stretch

Recent studies suggest that the hamstring muscles are as important to back pain as the abdominal and back muscles. Though a forward fold is an alright option, you'll get more out of a stretch if you are not sitting on the muscles you're trying to stretch.

Instead, try lying on your back on a mat. Use a strap or towel around the ball of the foot so that your shoulders stay on the floor and your upper body remains relaxed. Think of drawing the thigh toward the chest rather than the foot toward the face. Bending the knee is fine, especially if this helps you keep your low back on the ground—you'll find the bend becomes less the more flexible your hamstrings become.

lying hamstring stretch on yoga mat


Knee-to-Chest Stretch

The knee-to-chest posture stretches the muscles in the legs and lower back a bit more than some others, so it may not be ideal for people who have smaller ranges of motion. Lie on the floor with your knees bent. Using both hands, pull one knee toward the chest. The shoulders should remain flat on the floor. Hold this position for five seconds, then repeat with the other knee. In order to stretch the low back, there's no need to straighten the other leg.

knee chest stretch fizkes / Getty Images


Cat Stretch and Cow Pose

The cat stretch and cow pose work together to manipulate the flexor and extensor muscles in the back, as well as muscles in the hips. Start in the tabletop position, keeping the spine parallel to the ground and a slight bend in the elbows. Arch the back like a cat, dropping the head and pressing the shoulder blades toward the ceiling.

Hold this position for five seconds before relaxing and dropping the belly toward the floor, lifting the chin slightly but not craning the neck—think of bringing the chest through the arms toward the front of the room. Hold this position for another five seconds and then repeat the exercise several times, flowing with your breath.

woman on yoga mat doing quadruped cat stretch


Trunk Rotation Stretch

A 2017 study found that people with chronic lower back pain often have more mobile spines and pelvises than average. To address this, some experts suggest trunk rotation stretches. While standing, clasp the hands together slightly below the chest. Gently rotate to one side without leaning the torso. Hold this position for 10 seconds before repeating. Position the hands higher to add additional tension, if necessary.

standing spine trunk rotation MangoStar_Studio / Getty Images


Kneeling Lunge Stretch

Tight hip flexors can cause lower back pain because they pull the hips and pelvis out of line. The kneeling lunge stretches the hip flexors to help alleviate this issue. Start by kneeling, then move one leg forward so that the foot is flat on the ground with the knee bent about 90 degrees. The body’s weight should be placing even stress on both hips. Place both hands on the forward knee and lean ahead slightly. Hold this position for 10 seconds before repeating on the other side.

kneeling lunge stretch BenAkiba / Getty Images


Piriformis Stretch

The piriformis is a muscle that begins in the lower back, then stretches to the femur, sitting close to the sciatic nerve. Because of this position, it is often a source of significant back pain, especially in people with conditions like sciatica.

To stretch the piriformis, lie flat on the ground with the knees bent. Cross the foot of one leg over the knee of the other, resting just above the ankle of the raised leg on the knee of the other. Keeping the top foot flexed to protect the knee, gently pull the lower leg toward the chest. Hold the position for 10 seconds or more before repeating on the other leg.

piriformis stretch yoga fizkes / Getty Images


11. Sphinx Pose (Back Extension)

Sphinx pose can alleviate low back pain, but be very careful with the movement, as an extension of the back can also cause pain and injury. To perform this pose, lie on your stomach with your forearms tucked along your chest. Press into the forearms, raising the head, shoulders, and chest up off the ground. Keep the head in line with the spine—do not crane the neck upward. Though you should think of drawing the chest forward, there's no need to arc back so much that it actually reaches this position. Simply press up until you feel a comfortable stretch in the back. Remain here and breathe, then slowly lower back down.

older man doing low sphinx pose stretch

Legs Up the Wall Pose

Lie on your back near an empty wall, then maneuver so your legs are going up the wall, your seat quite close to where the wall meets the floor. How close your seat can get will depend on your hamstring and glute flexibility, so just find a comfortable spot. Relax into the posture, breathing deeply.  If having the legs straight is uncomfortable, you can bend the knees and place the feet against the wall, instead. Continue to breathe deeply.

woman in workout clothing doing legs up the wall pose

13. Hip Airplanes

Root one foot into the floor and slowly begin to raise the other leg behind you—you can place a hand on the wall for balance if necessary. Keeping the moving leg and the torso in a straight line, lean forward to about 45 degrees and keep the hips parallel to the floor. Then, slowly drop the hip, rotating it toward the standing leg. Move back to level hips, then bring the hip up and away from the standing leg, as if you were trying to stack the hips (but there is no need to move this far). Return the hips to level and lower the leg. Repeat on the other side.

Beautiful, young female athlete doing a standing balance exercise.

14. Self-Massage Stretch

The right kind of self-massage can offer just as much relief as stretches when incorporated into your lower back routine. For this massage, you'll need a lacrosse or tennis ball, or you can use a balled-up pair of socks. The harder the ball, the more intense this stretch will be. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Raise one hip off the ground and feel for the spot above your pelvis that is soft. Place the ball here, but make sure it isn't on the spine. Lower the hip back down, then draw the knee of the same side in toward the chest as much as you can without pain. Stay relaxed and breathe throughout. Count to 30, then lower back down, move the ball up about an inch, and repeat. Do the same on the other side. 

woman using massage ball to stretch lower back


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