Achy back? You're not alone.
We’ve all dealt with pain in the lower back at some point, whether it be dull aches or sharper pains, and it can sideline us not only from exercise, but from our day-to-day today activities.
In fact, at any given time, 31 million Americans experience low back pain, according to the American Chiropractic Association. This isn’t especially surprising considering that everyday activities — like driving, sitting at a desk and even sleeping — can place strain on the muscles in the back.
What causes lower back pain?
Discomfort in the lower back can be a result of tight or weak muscles.
Tight muscles can cause pain and soreness. The glutes, hips and hamstrings attach in and around your spine. So if these muscles are tight, it can cause low-back pain. Everyday activities that we all engage in, like sitting at your desk, driving or even lying on the couch or in bed can contribute to tight muscles. Being in the same, crunched position for long periods without stretching and strengthening can cause the muscles to shorten — which can cause pain.
Weak muscles can cause pain, too. If, for example, you have weak core muscles — which tend to be small in size — other, larger muscles will take on the work of keeping your body moving. The combination of overusing some muscles and underutilizing others can create imbalances that cause a lot of discomfort.
Injury to the bones and muscles in or near the low back can also cause pain, as can some health issues that may seem unrelated — like endometriosis.
How to relieve lower back pain
Moving more throughout the day and incorporating core-strengthening exercises can help strengthen your back and abdominals and prevent back pain. Stretching your lower back can make a big difference, too.
Yoga is another great way to release tension and tightness and loosen your muscles — and there are some great poses that help stretch the back and counteract all the wear and tear our body endures each day.
But there are other kinds of stretches you can do to relieve lower back discomfort, too. For our purposes, we are focusing just on stretches you can do to loosen up the areas that can cause low back pain, but strength-training exercises — like bridge or plank — can also help make your muscles stronger, reducing pain.
If you’re suffering from back pain, be sure to check with your doctor before performing any exercises.
15 stretches for lower back pain
These stretches specifically target the areas that create low-back pain. They are great to do throughout the day, especially if you spend a lot of time sitting.
Perform each stretch slowly and mindfully. Breathe in slowly and breathe out slowly for 5 breaths per stretch to get the most out of them. It is particularly important that you move slowly and gently if you are experiencing lower back discomfort so that you don’t exacerbate any inflammation.
Lie on your back, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground. Make sure your feet are open as wide as your hips. Reach your arms down toward your feet. Take a deep breath. As your stomach rises, feel your lower back arch slightly off of the ground. Then exhale as you tilt your pelvis back and press your lower back into the ground. Pull your navel in toward your spine as if you’re zipping into a tight pair of pants. Release and repeat 10 times.
Find a comfortable padded surface or a yoga mat. Feel free to grab a small pillow to rest your head on. Lie on your back with your spine neutral and relaxed. Keeping a neutral spine, bring your knees to your chest. Flex both feet and bring your soles toward the ceiling, so that your shins are perpendicular to your body. Your knees should bend at 90 degrees. Grab the outside of each foot with your hands and gently pull your feet down toward your chest. You should feel a comfortable stretch. Breathe deeply and hold the position for a few breaths.
Downward facing dog
Begin in plank position with your body in a straight line from head to heel. Keep your arms straight with your palms pressing down on the mat. With your knees slightly bent, tuck in your belly and think about pulling your chest toward your thighs while lifting your butt up toward the sky. Your body should form an upside down "V." Once you are lifted into the final position, straighten your legs gently. Keep your head between your upper arms and relax your shoulders. Reach your legs long so that your heels touch the ground. If this isn’t possible, focus on lengthening your spine rather than forcing your feet to be flat on the ground. Continue to keep your whole body engaged and focus on deep breathing.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart with your arms at your sides. Take a step forward so that your feet are a few feet apart, with your front right heel in line with the arch of your back left foot. Point your right foot forward and keep your left foot perpendicular to it. Raise your arms over head and then twist away from your right front leg, lowering your right arm out in front of you, and your left arm straight back behind you at shoulder height. Then, lower the right arm down to touch the right shin. Lift the left arm up toward the sky and engage the right side waist. Hold this position for 10 seconds, remembering to breathe slowly and consistently, before switching sides.
Kneel on the floor so that your shins and tops of your feet are on the ground. Bend at your hips, moving your hands forward and your butt back. Inch your hands out in front of you until your stomach is resting on your thighs and your arms are stretched straight out in front of you, palms on the floor. Focus on your breathing, and take it slow.
Start on all fours with your hands below your shoulders and knees below your hips. Breathe in while lifting your head up toward the ceiling. Arch your back as you breathe in, moving your stomach toward the ground. Then, exhale while pulling your chin to your chest and pulling your abs in so that you arch your back toward the ceiling. Continue alternating back and forth for about one minute.
Wide leg seated forward fold
Start sitting up with your legs open wide. Flex your feet and engage your quads. Slowly fold forward as far as you can reaching your arms in front of you. Relax your shoulders and feel a stretch in your inner thighs.
Seated forward fold
Bring both legs together and straight in front of you in a seated position. Reach your arms out to the sides and up, and then slowly fold forward as far as you can. Flex your feet and engage your quads. Relax your shoulders and soften forward into the stretch for your hamstrings.
Sit down with both legs extended out in front of you. Bend your right knee, crossing it over your left leg. Begin twisting to your right, placing your right hand on the floor behind you. Place your left arm on the outside of your right leg for support while twisting. Hold for about 30 seconds then switch to the other side.
Revolved head to knee pose
Begin seated in a straddle position on your mat with both legs extended out toward the sides of the room. Bend your left knee, placing your left foot on the inside of the right thigh. Reach the right arm down along your right leg, and reach your left arm up toward the ceiling. Then lean slowly toward the right to stretch the left side waist, reaching the left hand toward your right toes. Drop your head toward the knee. Hold for a few breaths, then release slowly and switch sides.
Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and your back straight. Bend your knees, bringing your feet in toward your body until the soles of your feet touch. Grab both feet with your hands for extra support. Slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in the hips. Hold for 30 seconds.
Low runner’s lunge
Start on your knees. Bend your right knee and place your right foot flat on the ground in front of you. Keep your left knee on the ground; gently lean into your front right leg until you feel a stretch in the left hip flexor and quad. Touch the ground with your fingertips, with hands on either side of the right foot. Keep your gaze looking forward and your spine straight. Hold for 10 seconds, and then perform on the left side.
Begin on all fours with your hands and knees on the ground. Step your right foot forward in between your hands, and then bring both hands to the inside of the right foot. Wiggle your right foot out to the right, and open the right hip, letting the right knee fall to the side so that you rest on the outer edge of your right foot. Keep the left knee on the mat, and rest the left foot on the mat. Push forward gently into your hips and hold. Switch so that your left food is forward and repeat.
Knees to chest
Lie down on your back. Bend your knees and slowly move your thighs toward your chest. Wrap your hands around your knees or shins, pulling them closer to your body. Hold this position for about 30 seconds. Look at the ceiling or close your eyes and relax while enjoying the stretch.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Lift your left foot off the mat, keeping a bent knee, and bring the leg toward your chest. Rotate your left leg outward, placing your left ankle on top of your right thigh. Gently pull your right thigh closer to your chest by putting your hands underneath the leg and pulling on the right thigh. Hold for 30 seconds before switching to the other side.