People suffering from low back pain know that it can impact every aspect of life. From getting out of bed to helping the kids get ready for sleep, low back pain can influence daily activities from morning until night.
Video: 3 Stretches To Help Low Back Pain
With time and careful exercise, there are ways to combat low back pain. Talk to your doctor, then try the following warm-up and stretching exercises to relieve low back pain.
It is important to start slowly, warming up the muscles you intend to stretch. These exercises can help with morning stiffness and also get your blood flowing to the muscles. Some people with low back pain may also experience limited range of motion in their hips and arms. Stretching exercises that get the heart beating and the blood flowing can help combat that.
Toe-touch: Instead of bending down to touch your toes, an action that can aggravate a sore or stiff low back, engage your core muscles to bring your toes to touch your hand.
- Stand with hips squared, weight balanced on both feet.
- Extend your arms straight out in front of you.
- Step forward with your left foot, then engage your core muscles to swing your right foot up to touch your right hand.
- Repeat with the left foot.
- Complete 10-20 with each leg.
Modification: If you have limited mobility, this exercise can be completed in a chair without stepping forward. Place feet on the ground in front of you and extend arms out. Inhale, engage your core, and lift your leg as high as you can. You can do this with the knee bent or by straightening the leg and lifting it. If you feel pain in your back, make sure your core muscles are engaged and keep your lifting leg bent.
Knee hug: This brings a deeper stretch to the low back and works your core for balance.
- Stand straight.
- One at a time, bring your knee up to your chest and squeeze.
- Move slowly, and keep your core engaged.
- Repeat 10-20 times on each leg.
Modification: Again, this exercise can be completed while seated, or you can use the back of a chair, a wall, or a table for stability. Hold the chair with your left hand and complete the exercise with your right leg and right arm. Turn around and hold the chair with your right arm while you stretch out your left leg.
Lunge: This final warm-up pose tests strength, increases flexibility, and challenges balance.
- Start standing with feet together.
- Take a big step forward with your right leg, slowly bringing your left knee to touch the ground before raising up and pushing back to standing. When you lunge, do not let your knee go in front of your right ankle.
- Repeat on the other leg.
- Complete a lunge 10-20 times on each side, exhaling as you step forward and inhaling as you rise back up.
Modification: For those challenged with balance, use a chair to keep yourself stable. If strength is an issue along with balance, take a smaller step forward and don’t worry about lowering down to the floor. Even a simple one-inch dip down will help increase flexibility and range of motion in the knees, hips, and ankles while building up the strong muscles in the legs and glutes.
Low back pain has many different causes, but often it is a result of tightness caused by poor posture, injury, or misalignment. Stretching out the muscles of the back can help relieve this pain, creating space and flexibility in the muscles and joints.
Hamstring stretch: The long, strong muscles that run down the backs of the legs can shorten and tighten over time, causing tension in the low back. Here’s how to loosen them up.
- Start laying on your back with legs extended straight out.
- Take a deep breath and inhale to raise your right leg up to a 90 degree angle.
- Using your hands around your lower thigh, exhale as you gently pull the leg toward you.
- Inhale to release the leg, then exhale and engage your core muscles to slowly lower the leg down.
- Repeat 10-20 times on each side.
Modification: If raising a straight leg is difficult, keep your knees bent and move each knee towards your chest (as you did with the knee hug while standing). If you are able to raise your leg straight but have trouble reaching the thigh with your hands, use a towel or a strap to gently stretch.
Piriformis stretch: The piriformis is a muscle that originates at the sacrum and attaches at the greater trochanter. Part of the rotator group of muscles in the pelvis, it is often associated with sciatic pain. This stretch can be intense for those with tight piriformis muscles, so it’s important to move slowly both in and out of it.
- You can complete this stretch standing up or lying down.
- Standing up: start with both feet on the ground.
- Inhale and raise your right knee.
- Place your left hand on your right knee, and slowly guide the knee across the body to the left.
- Keep the knee level and the core engaged.
- Inhale to uncross the knee and place the foot back on the ground.
Modification: This pose can be challenging for balance, so feel free to use a chair for stability. Lying down also incorporates gravity into the stretch. Lie down and extend both legs in front of you. Raise your right knee and use your left hand to bring it slowly across your body to the left. If that is not an option either, sit in a chair with both feet on the ground, then raise your right leg to place your right ankle on your left knee. Hold for a few breaths, then switch.
Cat-cow: Cat-cow gets your spine moving and stretches all parts of your back for improved mobility and flexibility.
- Start kneeling on all fours with shoulders directly above wrists and hips directly above knees.
- As you take a deep breath, drop your belly and arch your back so that your hips and your head reach for the sky.
- Exhale and letting your hips lead the way, round your back like a Halloween cat, tucking your navel back towards your spine as you look down the front of your body and your tailbone drops.
- Repeat as many times as you like, following the rhythm of your own breath.
Modification: Cat-cow can be completed in a chair. Place your hands on your knees. Inhale and tilt your pelvis backwards as you push your heart through your hands and look up. Exhale, tilt your pelvis forward, and round your upper back to look down the front of your body.
As you begin to use these stretching exercises to help with low back pain, it is important not to push too hard, too fast. You want to feel a gentle stretch. If you feel sharp pain, stop immediately and talk with your doctor before continuing.
For more low back stretching exercises, take a look at Yoga Journal’s ten-minute sequence to ease low back pain.