Best Lower Back Stretches

Best Lower Back Stretches for Tight Muscles

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Medically reviewed by Misty Seidenburg

If you’re one of the many individuals grappling with tight lower back muscles, understanding how to alleviate this discomfort is important. Ignoring this issue can lead to unnecessary increased pain and difficulty completing the things you want to do.

Lower back pain can disrupt your daily routine, making simple tasks like sitting, walking, or bending challenging. But here’s the good news: By incorporating these straightforward yet highly effective stretches into your routine, you can find relief and loosen those tight muscles, making your daily activities much easier. These are the best lower back stretches for not relieving pain; they are about reclaiming your comfort and mobility.

Tension & The Lumbar Spine

The back contains a large, complex group of muscles that support the spine, position the body upright, and allow the trunk to twist and bend in different directions. Exercise and stretching help back muscles maintain their tone and length.

Muscle stiffness and low back pain can range from mild to severe. They can come on suddenly after a specific movement or trauma to the back or gradually develop over time. Discomfort can stay in your lower back, radiate into your buttocks, and run along the back of your legs.

Along with tension, you may experience muscle spasms or cramping. You may notice symptoms worsening when you move a certain way or ease when sitting or lying down. You may also have tightness in your hips, pelvis, and legs.

What Causes Low Back Tension?

Everyday activities, injuries, and lifestyle factors contribute to gradual tightness in the lower back:

Muscle tension can also occur when the body compensates for another issue, like an imbalanced core, tight hamstrings, or glutes. Exercise and stretching to address these areas will help release the lower back and reduce symptoms.

Stress and Muscle Tension

When we talk about muscle tension, we cannot overlook the psychological impact of stress on the body’s nervous system. The body may respond to stress by adding pressure to the blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the muscles, leading to pain and tension.

But stretching and other physical activity boost levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin. Serotonin helps balance our mood and makes us feel more relaxed, easing muscle tension.  That makes stretching good for mind and body!

How to Loosen Tight Lower Back Muscles With Stretches

These stretches are designed to improve strength and flexibility in the lumbar spine. By extending and lengthening your back, you relieve compression of the bones of the lower back. As you stretch, you want to move slowly and gently. The goal is not to push to the point of pain but to open the back and allow more mobility.

1.   Hip Circles

Hip circles are a simple way to improve flexibility and reduce abdomen, back, and pelvis tension. They also engage your core.

  • Stand up tall with your feet slightly wider than your hips.
  • Place your hands on your hips and start rotating your hips in one direction in wide circles, as if you are hula-hooping.
  • Do 10 circles and repeat moving in the other direction.

2.   Seated Hamstring Stretch

This stretch can be done seated in a chair or on the ground. Do what feels most comfortable to you.

  • Sit on the edge of a chair with your left leg outstretched in front of you and your right leg bent.
  • Gently lean forward until you feel a stretch in the back of the left thigh.
  • Hold that stretch for 30 seconds, and repeat on the opposite leg.

3.   Child’s Pose

Child’s pose is one of several movements we’ll use to stretch the lower back muscles. This and other yoga poses open the hips and help you feel relaxed and refreshed.

  • Begin in a “tabletop” position on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  • Now extend your arms out in front of you as you shift your heels back towards your heels. Place a small pillow between your hips and feet if this is uncomfortable.
  • Drop your head and chest toward the ground as you reach your arms out toward the wall in front of you.
  • Hold this pose for 30 seconds and release.

4.   Cat-Cow

Cat-cow is a dynamic movement that moves the lower back muscles in two directions, lengthening muscles and building core strength.

  • Start in the tabletop position like you did for child’s pose. Your knees should be under your hips, and your hands should be directly under your shoulders. Your spine should be neutral, parallel to the floor.
  • Begin rounding your back toward the ceiling, stretching the space between your shoulder blades like a cat stretches.
  • Hold that position for 5 seconds and drop your stomach toward the floor.
  • As your stomach moves downward, arch your back and hold for another 5 seconds.
  • Repeat these movements for one minute and release.

5.   Bridge

Bridges release tension in the lower back and strengthen the back, buttocks, and hamstrings. If it feels more comfortable, you can support your lower back with a foam roller or small towel.

  • Lay on your back and bend your knees. Place your feet hip-width apart with your heels close to your glutes.
  • Press into your feet as you lift your hips off the ground.
  • Hold the upright position for 30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times before releasing back to the ground.

6.   Knee to Chest

This stretch lengthens the lower back to ease pain and tension.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Using both hands, grab your left leg, interlacing your fingers just under your knee. If it’s challenging to reach your knee, use a towel.
  • Pull the left knee toward your chest until you feel a gentle stretch in the lower back. Your lower back, hips, and legs should be relaxed.
  • Hold this stretch for 30-60 seconds and release. Repeat three times and switch to the opposite leg.

7.   Supine Twist

Supine twists stretch the lower back and increase flexibility throughout the spine.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Extend your arms to your sides to form a “T” shape.
  • Keep your shoulders pressed to the ground as you roll both knees to the left side as far as you can comfortably, keeping your head and chest facing upward.
  • Hold this pose for 30 seconds and release back to the starting position before repeating it on the right side. You can do this 2-3 times on each side.

8.   Legs up the Wall

This move is the perfect way to finish your stretching program because it’s incredibly relaxing. It will release your lower back, pelvis, and hamstrings and reduce tension and stress.

  • Begin in a seated position while facing a wall.
  • Now lie on your back and swing your legs against the wall until fully extended. If your hamstrings are tight, move your hips a few inches away from the wall.
  • Focus on relaxing the body and releasing tension. Hold this position for up to two minutes and release.

These stretches are safe to do daily with the approval of your healthcare provider and physical therapist. Combine this stretching program with exercises that build strength in the core and buttocks to support the lumbar spine and encourage healthy posture and alignment.

When to See a Healthcare Provider for Back Pain

Self-care, gentle exercise, and stretching can often improve back pain and muscle tension after a few days. If you have pain for longer than a week that does not improve with stretching, it’s time to see your healthcare provider to determine the cause and prevent a more severe injury.

Always seek medical attention if:

  • You have a fever
  • Symptoms occur after an accident
  • You notice weakness, tingling, or numbness
  • Pain or tension extends to other body parts
  • Symptoms last for more than a week

Physical Therapy for Back Pain and Tension

If tension doesn’t improve after a few days, consider treatment with physical therapy. Even with the best stretches for lower back pain, symptoms can continue if you do not address underlying mechanics, gait, posture, and balance issues.

Physical therapy combines therapeutic exercise and stretching with hands-on treatments for short- and long-term relief. A personalized physical therapy program for back pain can also help you rehabilitate from past injuries, prevent new ones, and promote healing after surgery.

Find a physical therapy clinic near you to schedule an evaluation for back pain and tension, or request an appointment online.

 

 

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Medically reviewed by

Misty Seidenburg

Vice President of Clinical Programs

Dr. Misty Seidenburg has been a practicing physical therapist since 2006 after obtaining her Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree from Gannon University. Dr. Seidenburg completed an Orthopedic Residency in 2009 and subsequent Spine Fellowship in 2010 where she discovered a passion for educating clinicians. Since 2019, she has developed and refined several post-professional residency and fellowship programs and currently serves as the Vice President of Clinical Programs for Upstream Rehab Institute. She serves on several APTA committees to help advance the profession, is adjunct faculty at Messiah University, and is also a senior instructor and course developer for the Institute of Advanced Musculoskeletal Treatments with a special interest in exercise integration. Outside of work, she enjoys challenging herself with new adventures and is currently competing as an endurance athlete.

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