Whether you spend all day on your feet or seated at a desk, it’s not uncommon to experience lower back pain as a result of how your unique kinetic chain moves and how your feet and the rest of your body absorb pressure.
The four best stretches for lower back pain relief
While integrating arch support is an easy way to proactively prevent and treat the misalignment that leads to pain, these four lower back stretches for pain can also help undo tightness and discomfort in your lower back.
Setting aside five minutes or so a few times a week to cycle through these gentle movements can relieve some of the spinal and muscular tension that builds up from long stretches of walking, standing, or sitting in the same position. Big caveat: if your pain worsens while doing any of these stretches, please stop and make time to speak with your doctor instead! Our top four stretches are:
- Cat and cow
- Seated spinal twist
- Reclined twist
- Child's pose
Cat and cow
A yoga flow favorite, this is one of the classic back stretches for lower back pain. Cat and cow promotes flexibility and space as you unfurl the spine—and it’s also just kind of fun to do.
Start by kneeling on all fours in a neutral position with your hands flat on the floor. Your hands will be under your shoulders and your knees should line up below your hips. Slowly arch your spine as you exhale, looking up and sticking your butt up and lifting your hips —just go easy and don’t strain or overextend. On your inhale, slowly round your back, forming a shape like a scared cat. Move gently back and forth between the two positions, breathing evenly as you go, for about one minute.
Seated spinal twist
This restorative form of stretching for lower back pain relief is great for encouraging mobility up and down the entire spine and creating more space in the back. In general, twists are relaxing and energizing, so this is a great option if you need a little break in your day.
Sit up straight on the floor with your legs straight and extended out in front of you. Bend your right leg so that your foot is on the floor, and then cross your right leg over your left, setting your right foot next to your left thigh. Gently pull and tuck your left leg in so that your left foot is just outside your right hip. If that’s uncomfortable, you can keep your left leg extended.
Extend your arms up and twist your torso to the right, placing your left elbow outside your right knee and your right hand on the floor behind you. As you inhale, lengthen your spine upward, and gently twist more to the right as you exhale (don’t force it! This shouldn’t be uncomfortable). Hold for about a minute as you continue to inhale and exhale. When you’re ready, unwind and repeat the same motions on the other side, starting with bending your left knee, doing the exercise two times on each side with a break of 20 to 30 seconds in between.
Like a seated twist, this simple stretch lengthens and realigns the spine, releasing tension in the lower back especially and gently stretches the shoulders. It’s often compared to gracefully “wringing out” the body so you can start fresh, over time your range of motion will also be extended.
Start by lying on your back with your legs straight and extending both arms out to form a T-shape. Bring your knees toward your chest so that your shins are parallel to the floor—your knees should be over your hips. Gently lower your knees to one side. There’s no need for your knees to touch the ground; it’s more important that your shoulders and neck stay flat, but you should also feel a stretch in your chest. If it feels comfortable, you can turn your head to look in the opposite direction of your knees. Hold for about a minute, taking slow, deep breaths, and then return to the starting position and switch directions, moving your knees and your gaze to the opposite side. It might also feel good to squeeze your knees into your chest when you’re done, this is called a knee to chest stretch.
Another yoga go-to, this stretch is a favorite for relieving pain and tightness all along the spine, shoulders, hips, and neck. It’s especially good for loosening up tight lower back, hip flexors and piriformis muscles and works wonders for fighting stress and fatigue too.
Come to hands and knees and then gently separate your left knee and right knee a little wider than your hips keeping your big toes touched. Sink your hips back to rest on your heels, while your hands stay extended. Walk your hands a little more out in front of you and let your belly sink closer to the ground. With your forehead on the floor or resting on a prop, take several slow, deep breaths, focusing on lengthening your spine. Hold for a minute, or more if you’re really feeling it.
General Tips for Stretching to Relieve Back Pain
Now that we've outlines the best stretching exercises for lower back pain relief, here are some tips to effectively stretch the muscles without injury:
- Wear comfortable clothing that won't constrict movements
- Do not force the body into difficult or painful positions—stretching should be pain free
- Move into a stretch slowly and avoid bouncing, which can cause muscle strain
- Stretch on a clean, flat surface that is large enough to move freely
- Hold stretches long enough (15 to 30 seconds) to adequately lengthen muscles and improve range of motion1
- Repeat a stretch between 2 and 5 times—a muscle usually reaches maximum elongation after about 4 repetitions1
- Stretch one side of the body at a time
- Consult a doctor or physical therapist if any pain feels unusual