Back stretches for back pain

What this article is about in less than 10 words

The Problem: Back pain

The Answer: Back stretches

Simple, right?

Okay… so it isn’t actually as easy as that, but these basic back stretches are a good place to start.

Let me be clear – these are general stretches and are not intended to be the only exercises you should be doing if you suffer from lower back pain.


The content presented on this blog post is not medical advice and should not be treated as such. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment.

For more information: Medical disclaimer.


Common questions?

1. What are the causes of back pain ?

There are a multitude of factors that we can go through that cause your back pain, but if you asked me what I consider to be the leading cause, I would say: SITTING

It’s probably what you’re doing right now.

Either you’ve been sitting there for a couple of hours already (or going to) or sitting with questionable posture.

That’s not good!

Prolonged sitting (…especially with bad posture) places a lot of stress on the structures in your back making them tight, painful and vulnerable to injury.

2. I’ve got disc bulge/herniation, arthritis, nerve impingement etc, should I still do back stretches for my back ?

My immediate response: Yes!

As long as there is absolutely no pain or discomfort whilst doing the stretches.

Be aware that there are a few circumstances where it is advisable to consult a health practitioner  prior to commencing any back stretches.

3. Why are back stretches important ?

1. To return normal movement:

If you are like me and have suffered bad back pain, moving is probably the last thing you want to do.

But that’s the thing…

The body actually requires movement to heal properly.

The sooner you start moving and stretching, the sooner you will start to heal.

2. Desensitize painful movements:

Your body tends to be overly sensitive when it is experiencing pain.

Movements that usually aren’t a problem (like bending over) all of a sudden start to cause pain.

Regular back stretches (within your limits) will enable the body to move more normally.

3. Prevent/treat stiffness:

This one is pretty straight forward.

You stretch what is tight.

4. How often do you need to do these back stretches?

Everyday for at least 10-15 minutes. Think about it this way: The more you sit, the more you need to do your exercises!

Now, I know a lot of you are busy people and may find it difficult to commit to doing this everyday… but if you make the effort to incorporate these back stretches, it will eventually become a daily routine for you and your body will thank you for it.

5. Do I need to do all 10 of the back stretches?

No.

There are some exercises that you may find very helpful and others not as helpful.

Whilst you are performing all the stretches for the first time, pay attention to how your body responds.

Select the exercises that give you the most relief.


WARNING: All these exercises are to be performed absolutely PAIN-FREE. These stretches are designed to be gentle and easy. Do not push pass what you are capable of doing. If you experience any increase in your symptoms:

  • 1) Change your technique
  • 2) Reduce the amount of movement
  • 3) If all else fails – STOP the exercise and continue with the ones you are able to do.

The 10 best back stretches

These 10 back stretches are definitely a good place to kick start a healthier spine.

(I have arranged these exercises in order of difficulty – easiest to hardest.)

1. Pelvic tilts

This is your STARTING POSITION for many of the other stretches.
Instructions:

  • Get into the 4 point kneel position.
  • Gently tilt your pelvis forwards and backwards.
  • As you perform this, you should feel the lower back contract and relax.
  • Repeat 10-20 times.

2. Lumbar Roll

Instructions:

  • Starting position as per pelvic tilt (see above).
  • Let your knees drop all the way down to one side.
  • Alternate sides.
  • Make sure not to go past any point which is painful.
  • Repeat 10-20 times.

3. Single knee to chest

Instructions:

  • Starting position as per pelvic tilt (See above).
  • Grab one knee towards your chest. Go as far as you can comfortably go.
  • Allow the remainder leg to straighten out.
  • Hold this position for 5-10 seconds.
  • Alternate legs.
  • Repeat 10 times.

4. Knee to Chest

Instructions:

  • Starting position as per pelvic tilt (see above).
  • Grab both knees and gently pull them towards your chest.
  • Hold this position for 5 seconds. Repeat 10-20 times.

5. Prone extension

Instructions:

  • Whilst lying on your stomach, use your forearms to slowly arch backwards as high as you can comfortably tolerate.
  • You should feel some gentle tension across your lower back. No pain should be experienced.
  • Hold this position for 10 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times.

6. Camel/Cat stretch

Instructions:

  • Get into the table top position (hands and knees on the floor, hands underneath shoulder joint, knees underneath hip joints, back in neutral position).
  • Position 1: Engage your stomach muscles by drawing in your belly button and round the whole back.
  • Position 2: Flatten your back as you stick your bottom out.
  • Oscillate between these positions for 10-20 repetitions.

7. Hip flexor

hip flexor stretch

Instructions:

  • Assume the lunge position as above.
  • Perform a posterior pelvic tilt
    • “Tuck your tail bone underneath you” 
    • Keep your glutes contracted.
  • Lean your torso away from the side you are stretching.
  • Aim to feel a pulling sensation at the front of your hip.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

8. Nerve stretch

Instructions:

  • Place your foot on a bench.
  • Keep your leg completely straight.
  • Lean forwards at the hips.
  • Point and bend your ankle.
  • Aim to feel a deep stretch anywhere along the back of your leg.
  • Repeat 20 times.

9. QL/Thoracolumbar Stretch

QL stretch

Instructions:

  • Whilst standing, place your left hand on left hip.
  • Push your hip towards the right.
  • Whilst reaching over to the left with your right hand, tilt your torso to the left.
  • Aim to feel a stretch on the right side.
  • Repeat on other side.
  • Target area: Upper Quadratus Lumborum

10. Back block stretch

Instructions:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
  • Lift your bottom off the floor and place a block (or rolled up towel) under your sacrum.
  • Let your legs relax down so that you are in a lying down position.
  • Hold this position for 60 seconds. You should feel a comfortable pulling sensation in your lower back.
  • Lift your bottom upwards and remove the block from underneath you
  • Gently perform knee to chest exercise (see stretch #4 above)
  • Repeat 3-5 cycles

29 thoughts on “Back stretches for back pain”

  1. Hi, Mark.
    I have a question: do you know what muscles in my lower back might be causing my pain?

    Every day, I wake up with lower back pain in the area slightly above my glutes. I’ve done your exercises and they help but I’m not sure what these muscles are called. Specifically, the prone extension exercise seems to target these muscles very well since I feel better after doing them but I don’t know what the muscles are.

    Reply
    • Hey Melty,

      There are quite a few muscles that are in the lower back.

      Commonly -It is the erector spinae muscle group. (Longissimus, iliocostalis)

      Mark

      Reply
  2. Hi Mark I used your thoracic pain video and it helped a lot but now I have L5/s1 herniation and stenosis causing me much difficulty. I stomped my foot and it’s been aching for weeks and affecting my quality of life severely . I’m hoping you can give me some advice and pointers on what to do. Thanks for the help

    Reply
    • Hey Steven,

      You stomped your foot and it caused a L5/S1 disc herniation? That sucks!

      If you are in a lot of pain, you will need to control the inflammation first.

      I would suggest a strong course of anti-inflammatory medications for 2 weeks (but you will need to talk to your doctor regarding this)

      In the meanwhile, keep the lower back as mobile and active as possible.

      The exercises/stretches mentioned here are a great place to start. Do not move into pain.

      Once everything has calmed down, you will want to find out exactly what has predisposed you to getting this lower back issue.

      I would check your pelvis posture and go from there.

      Mark

      Reply
      • Hi Mark thanks for the reply. I already had a herniation there plus stenosis and some arthritis. The stomp just increased my pain. It’s been almost two weeks and hasn’t gone away. Usually it would be gone by now.

        Reply
  3. No bones sticking out, I sent you a picture on Facebook. It’s more like the spine was divided into two parts, when bending over the lower part (at a certain angle) just stops moving whilst the other half continues – thus making the back look like an L rather than a rounded C – pointy angle and not rounded like others

    Reply
  4. Hi Mark!

    I have this weird problem with my back that nobody seems to have the answer for.

    When I bend over to reach my toes, my lower back bends in half creating this pointy angle, it doesn’t get rounded like others. I would say I’m pretty flexible can easily put my head into my knees with straight legs.

    It’s kinda hard to explain, I have photos as well. I know many have this same problem after posting in different forums about it.

    Hope to hear from u and thanks in advance! ❤️

    Reply
    • Hi David,

      If you can place your head between your knees whilst standing, I’d say you are very flexible in the hamstrings.

      I am not too sure what you mean by a pointy angle. Do you mean the bone sticks out more than the others?

      If so – you may just have a bony prominence likely at L4 or L5 spinous process.

      Mark

      Reply

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