10 Stretching Exercises to Relieve Lower Back Pain


Lower back pain and chronic lower back pain affects 80% of people according to the National Center for Health Statistics. It is the leading reason in the world for disability based on a 2010 study, Global Burden of Disease. Lower back pain can be so intense it incapacitates people for days and weeks. If you’ve ever experienced back pain, you know just how agonizing it can be to move and go about your daily life. The worst part is there is very little respite from the pain even if you sit or try to sleep.

People cope with the pain in many ways from pain relief pills to regular visits to chiropractors. Of course, there are those people, due to the cause of their back pain, that opt for surgery. However, for most people, regular stretching and strengthening of the muscles around the lower back can have a dramatic effect on the level of pain they experience.

There are many different types of exercises for the lower back and most are effective if you have the discipline to spend 10 to 15 minutes everyday working through the cycle that works best for you. Whatever exercises you choose, most revolve around warming up and stretching the muscles around the lower back, the outside of the hips, inside of the hips and the abdomen. Here are 10 exercises often recommended to strengthen lower back muscles and help relieve pain. 

1. Cat/Cow

A great lower back stretching exercise that that moves your back from an arch to a curl, producing spinal flexibility and abdominal strength. To perform the exercise, kneel on all fours with your hands beneath your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips. Exhale and gently arch your spine. Inhale, tighten your core muscles and round your back, like a cat. Move slowly between movements and hold in each position for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 10 times.

2. Sphinx

A favorite for stretching the lower back and getting traction along the spine, start the Sphinx by laying on your stomach with having your legs straight. With your pelvis pressed against the ground, prop yourself on your elbows about shoulders length apart with your fingers touching. Now pull your elbows forward, keeping your pelvis stationary. You’ll feel traction along your spine as it elongates. Hold for about 10 seconds. Repeat if desired.

3. Bridge

There are multiple variations of the bridge, each serving to mobilize the lower back. The classic bridge is performed by lying on your back with knees bent and your feet placed hip distance apart on the floor. Take a deep breath in and as you breathe out lift your hips off the floor until shoulders hips and knees are in a straight line. As you breathe in lower your hips to the floor. Repeat eight to twelve times.

4. Hip Stretch/Thread the Needle

One of the best exercises for stretching the outer hip, start by lying on your back with your knees bent. Same starting position as the bridge. Bring your right knee up until the thigh is perpendicular to the floor. Now take your left leg, rotate it outward at the hip and place the ankle on the knee of the right leg. Next, grab your right knee by place your right hand on the outside and threading your left through the opening between your left and right leg. Now pull your right knee toward you. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

5. Leg Stretch

Again, lying on your back with your knees bent, take your right leg and raise it to a 90 degree angle. Keep your leg straight. You can support it by placing your hands along your thigh just under your knee or you can use a towel to straddle the ball of your foot. Either way, pull your leg toward you keeping your knee straight. You’ll feel a gentle stretch along the along the back of your leg up toward your lower back. Hold for 30 second and repeat on the other side.

6. Two Knee Twist

Use the same starting position as the bridge. Now, pull your knees toward your chest and with your shoulders pressed firmly to the ground, slowly lower your knees to your left. Hold for for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.

7. Partial Crunches

To start this exercise, begin with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your neck, or alternatively, can cross them over your chest. While tightening our stomach muscles, raise your shoulders off the floor and breathe out as you rise up. Hold the raised position for a breath and slowly and gently lower yourself down. Repeat this exercise 8-12 times. To maintain good form throughout, be sure to keep your feet flat on the floor and make sure your tailbone and lower back remain in contact with the floor at all times.

8. Wall Sits

This exercise primarily builds isometric strength and endurance in glutes, calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, and adductor muscles. This also is good for people who do sports.

Stand about 10-12 inches from the wall and lean back so that your back is flat against the wall. Your feet should be shoulder width apart and firmly planted on the ground. Slowly slide down the wall until your knees are bent at a right angle. Your knees should be directly above your ankles and your back should be touching the wall at all times. Hold this position for 20 seconds then slowly rise to the starting position. You should feel a burn in your quadricep muscles. If you feel any knee pain, you should stop the exercise.  

9. Bird Dog

Begin this exercise on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under you hips. Reach your right arm forward and extend your left leg back. Keep your abs tight and focus on not letting your back sag towards for the floor. Hold for 5 seconds. Come back to the starting position and switch to your left arm and right leg. Do both sides to complete one rep. Do 5-10 reps. 

10. Knee To Chest

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Slowly raise one knee up to your chest while keeping the other foot flat on the floor. Make sure your lower back is pressed to the floor. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds. Lower your knee and repeat with the other leg to complete a rep. Do 2-5 reps. You can also do a two-legged version but be sure to lift up one leg at a time as lifting both simultaneously may strain more sensitive back muscles.