As many as 80% of people face occasional or long-term lower back pain at some point in their life. In fact, it is the top cause of disability in the United States and costs billions of dollars in healthcare expenses annually.
Injury is a common cause of lower back pain. Serious injuries, like a car crash or fall, require immediate medical attention. Medical conditions such as spina bifida and arthritis can also cause back pain. Many people also start noticing back pain more often as they get older.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of stretching for lower back pain and which stretches can help the most.
If your symptoms are mild, gentle stretches can provide pain relief and help prevent the pain from recurring. In fact, stretching before and after a workout may help prevent back pain before it happens.
Lower back stretches can also make your back muscles more flexible and improve your range of motion, which means that sudden movements are less likely to strain your back.
Many types of stretches, including yoga poses, can help relieve tension and pain in your lower back and help you relax. Be sure to do these stretches correctly — otherwise, you may make your back pain worse.
For this yoga pose, begin on your hands and knees. Align your shoulders directly above your wrists and your hips directly above your knees. Your back should be parallel to the floor.
- First, do the cow part of the pose. Curve your back down in a U-shape, and tilt your pelvis downward. Your arms should be straight, eyes gazing at the ceiling.
- Round your back toward the ceiling, pull your tummy up, and tuck your chin into your chest. This is the cat part of the pose.
- Hold each position for a few seconds, and repeat the pose several times.
To begin this stretch, lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent.
- Lift one knee, and pull it gently toward your chest using both hands. Feel yourself pressing your lower back into the floor.
- Next, slowly lower your foot back to the floor and switch legs, pulling your other knee to your chest. Then return to the starting position.
- Last, lift both legs, gently pulling both knees toward your chest.
- Hold each position for a few seconds and repeat the set several times.
While you are already on the floor, try a lower back rotational stretch.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent. You can keep your hands on your chest or stretch them out into a T-shape, palms facing down.
- Let your knees drop slowly to one side of your body toward the floor. Make sure your shoulders remain flat on the floor while you do this stretch. Do not worry if your knees do not touch the floor. It is important not to strain your lower back.
- Hold the stretch for a few seconds, and then slowly bring your knees back up. Drop your knees to the other side of your body and hold.
- Repeat this stretch several times.
As a variation of the rotational stretch, you can do this stretch sitting on a stool or chair.
- To begin, sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor.
- Bring both hands to the outer side of one thigh and gently pull, rotating your body. If your chair has arms, hold one arm and gently pull to rotate.
- Release, then switch sides.
- Repeat this exercise several times, a couple of times a day.
Working on your abdominal muscles also builds strength in your glutes, which can ease the pressure on your lower back. Bridge exercises can help build those muscles.
- First, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat against the floor.
- Tighten your abdomen and glutes as you lift your hips off the floor. Do not lift up too high, as that can strain your back.
- Keep your hips raised for 10–15 seconds, then lower your hips to the floor. You can hold the position longer if you feel comfortable.
- Repeat the exercise several times.
As a variation, use a cushion or a rolled-up towel to support your hips as you lift.
Learn more core strengthening exercises here.
For this yoga pose, lie on your stomach, with your legs stretched out and your arms at your sides.
- As you inhale, lift your chest and prop yourself on your forearms, with your elbows aligned below your shoulders. Your hips and legs should be resting on the floor.
- Hold the position for 10–20 seconds, being careful not to strain. Then, lower yourself back to the floor.
- Repeat several times.
This yoga pose gives your body all-over relaxation.
- Start with your hands and knees on the floor, turning your toes inward so they touch.
- With your knees wider than hip-distance apart, stretch your hips back until your bottom is right over your heels.
- Stretch your arms out in front of you, and lower your body to the ground. Rest your forehead on the floor.
- Hold this pose as long as you are comfortable. Then sit up and repeat the pose.
If you find that this pose hurts your shoulders, keep your arms at your sides instead of reaching forward.
Learn more yoga poses that can help ease back pain here.
For people with mild lower back pain, gentle stretches are more likely to help than hurt. It is important to do the stretches slowly and gently so you do not accidentally strain your back and cause more pain.
A 2016 review of studies looked into the safety of yoga for back pain. Researchers found that there were few incidents of worsening pain and that most people reported benefits from the stretches.
Talk with your doctor about your general health before starting new stretches, especially if you have moderate-to-severe back pain. An orthopedist or physical therapist can help you understand what kind of stretches will be most beneficial.
Learn 10 exercises to help prevent back pain here.
If there is no underlying medical condition that is causing your lower back pain, these exercises and a little self-care can usually give you relief. Self-care tips include relaxation techniques, such as breathing.
You might feel tempted to take muscle relaxants, but there is little clinical evidence that they are helpful for lower back pain. Instead, try nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Rest will also help, but avoid staying in bed for more than a day or two, which can actually prevent you from getting better. Applying a cold or heat pack for about 15 minutes every few hours can also help relieve lower back pain.
Stretches are not a substitute for medical care, so if you suspect you have an injury, contact your doctor. You will get a physical exam, and your doctor will decide if you need additional testing, such as X-rays.
Learn when to contact a doctor for back pain here.
Gentle stretches, such as the Cat-Cow Pose and certain spinal twists may help ease and prevent lower back pain. Exercises that build up your core muscles can also ease the pressure on your lower back and help prevent pain.
If you notice that your pain is severe or persistent, contact your doctor. They can help you understand the cause of the pain and will recommend the best treatment options for you.