Have you ever experienced lower back pain? If not, consider yourself lucky. Low back pain is extremely common and leads to severe disability in people all around the world.
Fortunately, there are some easy ways to keep your back healthy and to limit your chances of suffering from this issue.
One way to prevent low back pain is to follow a regular flexibility routine.
Why Is Low Back Pain So Common?
Truthfully, there’s no definitive reason why back pain affects so many people across the globe.
Researchers have tried for years to determine exactly what has led to the rise in cases of low back pain, but have come up empty-handed.
However, we do know that there are some definite risk factors associated with the development of low back pain. These risk factors include:
- lack of exercise,
- Improper lifting technique,
- high blood pressure.
Naturally, there are many other conditions and lifestyle factors that can also put someone at risk of developing low back pain.
What are the Treatment Options for Low Back Pain?
When it comes to low back pain, there are four, general options available for treatment:
- physical therapy,
- Lifestyle modifications.
Of course, in reality, most people benefit from a combination of the above treatments to manage their low back pain.
In terms of the four items outlined above, surgery and medication are often considered the riskiest treatment options. In my opinion, these options should only be tried after physical therapy and lifestyle modifications have failed to address a patient’s symptoms.
Lifestyle modifications often refer to a change in diet, quitting smoking, starting an exercise routine, or similar steps. One lifestyle change that can go a long way toward reducing back pain is stretching. Naturally, stretching is often a part of a physical therapy plan of care as well.
In the next section, I’ll outline 5 of the best, general stretches that can help to keep the lower back flexible and strong.
Top 5 Stretches to Stave Off Low Back Pain
Before trying these stretches, it’s a good idea to consult with a doctor or physical therapist. Some conditions and cases of low back pain are more serious than others.
The only way to tell if your back pain will benefit from stretching and exercise is to be thoroughly evaluated by a trained professional.
Additionally, if you are having pain during the stretches, back off slightly and see if that helps. If it doesn’t, be sure to follow up with your doctor.
The following stretching workout should be performed 5-7 times a week. The individual stretches included in the workout should be taken to a point of “moderate discomfort”, held for 30-60 seconds on each side (if applicable), and performed 4-6 times per session.
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1. Supine Single Knee to Chest Stretch
Often abbreviated SKTC, this stretch is usually very mild for most individuals.
For this reason, it’s a good one to start with, before you really begin to give your back and legs a good, deep stretch with the other exercises.
Target Muscles: Glutes, muscles of the lower back, the upper portion of the hamstrings.
How to perform
- Lie on your back with your legs straight.
- Raise one knee towards your chest, grasping this leg at the shin and pulling gently with your arms.
- You should feel a light-to-moderate stretch in your glute muscle during this exercise. Additionally, you may feel a very slight pulling sensation in your low back.
2. Trunk Twist Stretch
Rotation is an important motion to emphasize when stretching and when performing resistance exercises.
This stretch will open up your back significantly while also stretching your piriformis and the “deep external rotators” in your hips.
Target Muscles: Piriformis, rotary muscles of the trunk such as the obliques, deep external rotators.
How to perform
- Start in a seated position with your back straight.
- Cross your right leg over your left and place your left elbow on the outside of your right knee.
- Gently press into the side of your knee with your elbow, causing your trunk to rotate further to the right.
- Once you’ve reached your desired point of stretch, hold for the designated period of time and repeat on both sides.
3. Seated Single Leg Hamstring Stretch
Due to lifestyles that involve sitting for extended periods of time, the hamstrings are often tight on many people.
When these muscles become overly tight, they pull on the pelvis, rotating it backward. This malposition of the pelvis is responsible for many cases of low back pain.
Target Muscles: Hamstrings, minor muscles of the lower back, gastrocnemius.
How to perform
- Start in a seated position, with your right leg stretched out in front of you, toe pointed to the ceiling. Your left leg should be bent comfortably with the sole of your left shoe resting against the inside of your right thigh.
- Keeping your back straight, bend forward at the waist, reaching for your right toes.
- Resist the urge to bend your back. Bending your back is considered “chaating” on this exercise. This “cheat” will enable you to reach further, but can damage your back muscles and will provide less of a stretch for the hamstrings.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps on both sides.
4. Crossover Stretch
This is the second rotational stretch on our list. However, as opposed to the trunk twist stretch, the crossover stretch works by moving your legs rather than moving your upper body.
In exercise science, these two stretches are categorized by which part of the body is fixed and which part is moving. Specifically, the trunk twist and the crossover stretch can be classified as closed chain and open chain exercises, respectively.
Target Muscles: Piriformis, glutes, rotary muscles of the trunk.
How to perform
- Begin by lying flat on your back.
- Keeping your shoulder blades on the floor, bring your right leg across your body, aiming to bring your right knee toward your left armpit.
- Use your left hand to help guide your right knee and to provide a little extra pressure for increased stretch.
- Be certain to perform on both sides.
5. Cat-Cow Stretch
This stretch is a classic move that is incorporated into nearly all yoga classes. This exercise stretches your entire spine, increasing mobility and flexibility throughout the back.
Target Muscles: Multiple muscles in the back, abdominal muscles, rhomboids.
How to perform
- Place your hands and knees on the floor.
- Your hands should be directly under your shoulders, while your knees should be directly under your hips.
- Begin by arching your back and bringing your chin toward your chest. This is the “cat” position.
- After you’ve held this position for the prescribed amount of time, reverse the movement to perform “cow.”
- This is done by allowing your stomach to sink towards the floor and bringing your head up.
- Continue to alternate between these two positions throughout the course of the exercise.
Low back pain is an incredibly debilitating disorder that affects millions of people every year. If you’re suffering from low back pain and don’t know where to turn, give these exercises a try.
Just make sure you move through each stretch gently, and never push through any pain. Also, if your pain starts to increase, be sure to contact your doctor or PT as soon as possible.
- Hoy D, March L, Brooks P, Blyth F, Woolf A, Bain C, Williams G, Smith E, Vos T, Barendregt J, Murray C, Burstein R, Buchbinder R. The global burden of low back pain: estimates from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study. Ann Rheum Dis 2014 ;73:968–974
- Zafar, F., Qasim, YF, Farooq, MU, Shamael, I., Khan, IU, & Khan, DH (2018). The Frequency of Different Risk Factors for Lower Back Pain in a Tertiary Care Hospital. Cureus, 10(8), e3183. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.3183