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The 7 Best Lower Back Stretches for Tightness and Pain

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The 7 Best Lower Back Stretches for Tightness and Pain

If you’re struggling with pain or tightness in your lower back and you want quick and easy relief, then you want to read this article (and do these stretches).

 

A backache is like a toothache — day and night, no matter what you’re doing, there it is, gnawing away at your nerves.

You can’t sit without pain, Or stand. Or lie down, walk, run, work out, or anything else.

If it’s been long enough, you may have even forgotten what it’s like to live without the aching.

Well, in this article, I want to help you get relief by sharing with you some of the common causes for lower back pain along with the best 7 lower back stretches you can do.

Like any exercises, these stretches won’t necessarily deliver instant and dramatic results, but if you’re consistent with them, you should see marked improvements within your a few weeks.

And if you’re here for preventative reasons — not because you’re in pain but because you want to keep your lower back loose and feeling good– then you’ve come to the right place, too.

Statistically, there’s an 80% chance you’ll experience lower back pain at some point in your life.

Follow the advice in this article and do these lower back stretches regularly, though, and it might never darken your door.

So, with that, let’s get to it.

Why Modern Living Is a Recipe for Lower Back Pain

best lower back stretches for men

Be it a dull, endless ache or a sharp, unexpected jolt that leaves you laid up, back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

It afflicts one in every ten people at any given time and this statistic is on the rise.

Here in America, low back pain is now the third biggest health-wrecker, after heart disease and lung disease, respectively, with 25% of us Yanks having experienced the condition in the past three months.

 

Why is back pain so pandemic? Why do we find it in people of all ages and circumstances?

Well, it starts here:

On average, we sit close to 8 hours per day — and some of us as many as 15 hours.

It’s like our lives are an 80-year-long tribute to being seated — that we were born to sit down.

We take a seat to eat breakfast and slouch into our cars for our morning commutes. We toil at our desks by day and slump on the couch by night.

What’s wrong with this picture, you wonder?

A lot.

By spending so much time in a chair, our hip muscles become tighter and shorter, our hamstrings become less elastic, and our glutes go to sleep. And when all that happens, our lower back has to pick up the slack and do more than its fair share of work to hold us upright.

In short, a static deskbound lifestyle almost guarantees that, sooner or later, you’ll have a sore lower back.

There are myriad non-seated activities that add stress to the back as well, ranging from awkward bending and twisting to standing for long periods to sleeping in funky positions and even coughing or sneezing violently.

Unfortunately, our backs are besieged and beleaguered by every day living, whether we realize or feel it yet or not.

And then us fitness folk add other things to the mix that amplify the stress on our backs, like…

And that’s especially true for those of us that are in denial about the state of our lower backs and that think that “no pain no gain” has anything to do with getting big and strong.

So, the bottom line is this:

If you want to keep your back healthy and functional, then you want to sit less, move more, and do the right lower back stretches.

 

 

You should also know that doing a little bit of exercise every day isn’t necessarily enough to counterbalance the consequences of sitting too much.

Instead, you should spend at least 5 minutes standing for every 30 minutes of sitting.

If you do that plus exercises that strengthen your core and back muscles (more on that in a minute) plus the stretches given in this article, you can save yourself from a world of pain and frustration.

What Is the Lower Back and Why Does It Hurt?

lower back stretche for pain relief

Back pain comes down to how your muscles, ligaments, and bones interact with each other.

You see, your back is an intricate cluster of:

  • 24 small bones that support the weight of your upper torso
  • Shock-absorbing discs that pillow the bones and let the spine bend.
  • Ligaments that clasp the vertebrae and discs together.
  • Muscles
  • Nerves
  • Tendons to connect muscles to vertebrae.
  • A spinal cord, which transmits nerve signals from the brain around your body.

Here’s how a lot of this looks:

basic back stretches

Then there’s your lower back (referred to as the “lumbar” region of the spine), which is where most back pain happens.

It’s comprised of five vertebrae, which are the column of small bones that form your spine:

  • L1
  • L2
  • L3
  • L4
  • L5

And here’s how it looks:

best lower back stretches flexibility

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because the lumbar spine is a complex interwoven structure, even the slightest damage to the ligaments, tendons, muscles or discs in this area can cause agony.

Sciatica is an example of this. One small nerve in your lower back gets pinched and – like that! – pain shoots down your leg and pulsates for days.

Muscular dysfunction can cause back pain as well.

You see, when two or more opposing muscles don’t contract and relax like they should, one becomes weak and slack while the other becomes overworked and tight.

In the case of the back, this can happen with the lower back and abdominal muscles, which are supposed to work synergistically to hold you upright.

If your lower back muscles are weak, though, it forces your core muscles to do more than their fair share to hold you upright.

This, in turn, causes your core to get tighter and tighter and pull more and more on your lower back, which eventually results in pain.

If the muscular imbalance isn’t corrected, a vicious cycle ensues: your tight stomach muscles grow ever-tighter, pulling on the lower back even more, exacerbating the pain.

Conversely, weak, poorly developed stomach muscles cause the spine to become off-kilter, which can result in lower back pain.

The solution is obvious:

Strengthen both your core and lower back muscles.

If you develop these muscles, it’ll go far in keeping your lower back pain free by giving your spine the muscular support it needs to function properly.

(And if you want a back workout that will do just that, check this article out.)

The Best Lower Back Stretches

best lower back stretches for pain

We can learn something very simple from a decade of research on yoga and lower back pain:

The easiest way to melt back pain away (and keep it away) is stretching.

This is why people with chronic lower back problems have seen their ailments disappear in just 20 minutes of yoga stretching each day.

And why research shows that stretching your back for just 60 seconds every 20 minutes that you spend seated can significantly improve your back health.

For those of you that stand a lot, you want to add hamstring stretching into the mix, too, because it reduces lower back strain.

In a nutshell: the looser your back, hip, and leg muscles are, the better your lower back is going to fare.

I should also mention that being strong and lean helps as well.

You already know why strength matters (core and lower back muscles), and research shows there’s a clear association between obesity and lower back pain (the more top-heavy you are, the harder your lower back is going to have to work).

So, let’s get to best the lower back stretches.

You don’t have to do each of these stretches every day, by the way. I’d recommend that you try each and choose three or four that loosen up your back the best, and do those every day.

For me, it’s the Two-Knee Twist, Pigeon, and Thread the Needle.

1. The Two-Knee Twist

Lying on your back with your arms spread out either side of you so that your body is in a T-shape, place your knees together then draw them up to your chest.

Now, with your shoulders pressing down firmly to the ground, slowly lower your knees to your left.

Hold for two minutes and bring your knees back to center, and repeat on the other side.

Note: If you find your knees are making your shoulders rise from the ground, lower your knees further down.

2. The Cobra

Lying on your stomach, with your forearms propping you up and elbows under your shoulders, press your weight down through your palms and the tops of your feet.

Squeeze your pelvis bone into the ground. Breathe deeply and hold for two to three minutes.

3. The Seated Twist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This one is great if you’re travelling in a car or on a plane and want to stop your lower back from cramping up.

Holding the left hand armrest of your seat, and keeping your back straight, turn the right side of your body towards the armrest, and hold for one minute.

Then do the same on the other side.

For bonus points: do the twist with your right elbow pointing into the outside of your left leg, and vice-versa.

4. The Pigeon

Starting off on all-fours and facing the ground, raise your left knee under your chest so that it’s almost at 90-degrees under your torso.

Then, with your left hand placed over your right hand at eye level, lower your forehead to rest on your hands. Feel the stretch in your glutes.

Hold for three minutes then swap legs.

5. Legs Up the Wall

With your backside right up against a wall, raise your legs up and straight against it.

You’ll feel all the muscles of your lower back and upper thighs relax. Hold for 10 minutes.

6. Supine Hamstring Stretch

Lying on your back, bend your left knee towards the ceiling, place a towel or strap around your left heel, then straighten the leg, while pressing out through your heel.

If your back begins to feel a bit uncomfortable, bend your right knee and place that heel on the ground near your backside for added support.

Hold for three minutes, do the same again with the other leg.

7. Thread the Needle

With your knees together facing the ceiling, cross your left leg over your right so that your left ankle is touching your right knee.

Now, interlocking your hands underneath your right knee, with your hands slowly draw your right knee towards your chest.

Feel the stretch in your left glute then hold for three minutes, before swapping sides.

The Bottom Line on Lower Back Stretches

Stretching isn’t particularly fun or sexy like working out or, uh, having sex, but it’s one of the easiest things you can do to keep your body in working order.

And in the case of the lower back, stretching can work wonders in dissolving and preventing tightness and pain.

Give these stretches a go and you’ll see for yourself.

What’s your take on lower back stretches? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • I’ve always struggled with lower back problems to some extent and when I started doing deadlift(especially Romanian) and squatting it started bothering me again. Then I started stretching my hamstrings and doing exercises to strengthen my stabilisers and it is already a lot better. It didn’t take long either. Maybe you can add some exercises for stabilisers here because not many people know about them and they are also crucial for strengthening the lower back.

    • I’m glad you’re feeling a lot better, Ru-an! Not a bad idea.

  • Kevin Doe

    Thanks for these, I always experience back pain wh
    en doing ab exercises, hopefully it goes away after these stretches. My lower back always gives up before my abs and burns haha.I just started strengthening the lower back since I’m not sure if my abs were weak or my back was too weak. Cable crunches and any ab exercises with spinal flexion causes back pain or soreness instead of abs and I seem to have a hard time feeling abs anymore when working them no matter if I change the exercise.

  • Rich Bobruk

    Since I had a lower back injury from a fall doing my day job (Fire-fighter) I started doing Yoga and have found it the BEST exercise for preventing further pain by increasing my flexibility and posture. Alongside my weight training it is my Must Do exercise. I highly recommend it!

  • Jason Elyk

    I invested in a strength based, dynamic resistance yoga series called DDP Yoga. I do shorter sessions as a warm-up on lifting days and longer sessions on resting days. There’s an entire workout just for the back, hips and knees. Effects are very noticeable and don’t take long to realize.

  • Brian

    Great article Mike! I have developed lower back pain recently and will give these a shot. While I recover, deadlifts and squats are on hold because they always seem to aggravate the condition. Any suggestions for lower back friendly exercises to replace them in the meantime? Deadlift and squat are so essential to BLS so I hate to give them up.

    • If your doc clears you for lifting, you can replace the deadlift with a trap bar deadlift, and squats with either Bulgarian Split Squats or Hack Squats.

  • Matt Wells

    Hey Mike,
    This is a great article and addresses a lot for stretching and helping with the pain. I would love to see an expanded article on modified exercise programs for people with lower back issues. I’m a lifelong lifter, and was very involved with the Strength & Conditioning program at Florida State University while I was there. About two years ago, I started having lower back issues. My belief is that it stemmed from doing the INSANITY workout program. Not to knock on INSANITY as a whole, because I got great results with it and thought it was an excellent program, provided you do it correctly. I did it far too long instead of the recommended 60 day program. (I did it for like nine months straight and fought through the pain when my back started hurting, unwise) Ever since then, my back has never been the same. On top of that, I do have a minor case of scoliosis. I have been seeing a chiropractor for a little less than a year now to help, and it has provided SOME help. I have always been a big believer in the big 3 (or rather for me the big 4) and built my workouts around squats, deadlifts, benching, and overhead military pressing. Unfortunately, ever since my back started having problems, I have had to cut out squats and deadlifts. I still did squats for a while but with lighter weight, but even that kept on aggravating my back. I should add that I was also doing lower back stretching while doing squats. Deads were unfortunately scratched entirely. It’s not a matter of form, as I use very strict form on the exercises. So all that being said, I would love to see an article discussing some variations and modified workout programs for those that are forced to unfortunately avoid squatting and dead lifting, as pivotal as I know those are. Specifically, what would you recommend for legs if squats are off the table? My gut instinct is that leg presses and bodyweight lunges may be the way to go? Unfortunately, in my case as for many other men I am sure, my workouts have recently become more about overall health as opposed to building strength, simply because the strength building programs, at least in regards to legs and back, have turned into detriments to my every day comfort. I’d like to be able to play actively with my daughter and soon-to-be-born son rather than making things worse and jeopardizing my ability to do so for the next couple of decades. Sorry for the long comment, this was probably more suited for an email.

    • kalpak

      I had almost similar problem but not because of weight exercises but due to poor muscular strength and calcium loss caused by tuberculosis. BTW I am from India and incidences of TB is very high.

      I did yoga for about 4 years ( I followed iyenger yoga ) ( read his book light on yoga by BKS IYENGER) before starting weight training and it helped me to get my lower back almost back to normal. Now I do deadlift, squats and RDL and still no pain or discomfort. Of course if I compare condition of my back with people who never had problem , I am not up to the mark.

    • Thanks Matt! Sorry to hear about the lower back issues. 🙁

      Your best bet (if you can do them without pain or discomfort) would be leg press and hack squats. Lunges are good too.

      I completely understand wanting to be there and active for the kids. Try those exercises out and LMK how it goes!

  • Brutha Fromanothamutha

    I have two bad discs in the lumbar region and thus start every day with pain and tightness. For some reason doing 5 minutes of glute bridges makes the rest of my day nearly pain free. Not sure why this helps, but as long as it works…

    • Awesome. That’s great you found a fix. Keep it up!

  • Freda

    I have been having this nagging back pain in the left lower quadrant that it feels like it has been there forever. It is funny that you mention that it can come to a point that you can’t remember how not being in pain was like. I have had to take a step back from my cardio and weight training a bit in the hopes that I would recover fully. It feels like even when I have recovered one workout brings the pain back. I haven’t included yoga in my workout yet and I have been considering including it in my weekly workouts and this article gives me more incentive to include it. Thanks for the article!

    • No problem! Glad you can make good use of it. Additional time off could potentially help as well.

  • HM

    Wow… great article!! Not that great articles from you are at all surprising because they tend to be of only the highest standards! 🙂

    I’ve had slight lower back issues for years. Not brought on by weight training but weird, random things like getting in my car, twisting the wrong way, etc. I’ve done HOURS of research to learn much of what you covered but you just clarified and provided SO much value all in one place. Had I read this 2 years ago, it would have saved me countless hours of Google time. That you for being such a fantastic resource for those wanting to build muscle, get lean and stay healthy.

    • Thanks! Happy to hear you got a lot out of it.

      YW 🙂

  • Hey Mike. I just found out your article. Since I am a programmer working from home, I found my lifestyle becoming more sedentary, and sometimes suffering from back pain. I tried a few of the stretching exercises shown here and it seems to be working quite well. I like that almost all of the workouts do not require extra equipment, just a simple mat or chair will do.
    Thanks again for alleviating my back pain.

  • Vibhav Sharma

    Slightly off topic, I have what seems to be a pinched nerve in the shoulder, along with some amount of tightness behind the right shoulder. What should I do, aside from paying attention to my posture hereon ?

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