6 best lower back stretches for instant pain relief, as demo’d by a top trainer

lower back stretches
6 best lower back stretches to ease painGetty Images

Lower back stretches, if done correctly, can put paid to the lower back pain that millions of you suffer with (70-85% of the global population, to be precise). The best stretches for lower back pain can also prevent injury (providing you pair ‘em with some solid back exercises), but the area is so sensitive that, like sciatica exercises, you need to know exactly what you’re doing to avoid making the current situ even worse.

So, from the causes of lower back pain (looking at you, pandemic) to how to stretch your lower back with the lower back stretches that *actually* work, here’s everything you need to know straight from the pros: Women’s Health Collective trainer Rosie Stockley and osteopath Anisha Joshi.

What causes lower back pain?

As with most things in your body, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint one specific cause of lower back pain. The pandemic and spending too much time sitting has undoubtedly played a huge part (searches for lower back stretches almost doubled between December 2019 and December 2020), but there are a few other factors to keep in mind. Both Stockley and Joshi cite the following:

  • Muscle imbalances

  • A sudden increase of pressure in the gym

  • Nerve pain

  • Strained muscles

  • Tight muscles, such as tight hamstrings

  • Poor posture

‘Most commonly, lower back pain is down to muscular or nerve pain triggered by a particular movement or as a result of extended time spent in a sub-optimal alignment,’ says Stockley. ‘Like lifting too heavy in the gym and moving too suddenly from one exercise to the next, or sitting in a position that crushes your psoas muscles (your lower back muscles).

Posture is key for avoiding a build-up of tension, which can cause lower back pain, and comes from sitting all day. Remember to keep your spine straight, pelvis aligned and avoid hunching your upper back and shoulders.’

As a pre and postnatal specialist, Stockley adds that lower back pain often comes through pregnancy, ‘Because of the extra weight from the growing bump, which means the spine and pelvis aren’t aligned and the abdominal wall is weaker and not activated.’ We’ll come onto the lower back stretches that can help in a moment, but know that strength training, especially core exercises can also help, as well as posture cues like remembering to tuck your tailbone.

Your lower back pain could be a skeletal issue. In this case, Stockley advises that you seek medical advice, from which a GP may refer you to a physio or a specialist for more individual insight.

Benefits of lower back stretches

  • Helps release tension in and lengthen your lumbopelvic region (from your lower back to your pelvis)

  • Improves posture

  • Encourages blood flow to areas of lower back pain

  • Strengthens lower back

  • Reduces stress

Can stretches cure lower back pain?

Sadly, it's unlikely. While lower back stretches can certainly relieve you from the pain and muscle tightness, rest and strength training also play a part. ‘Stretching is a great form of mobility for the muscles and joints,’ says Joshi. ‘If you do it regularly it can be great for your lower back, but it’s important to implement strength training exercises, too. This’ll help iron out any muscle imbalances that mean certain areas are under too much pressure, which could be the root of your pain.’

Stockley adds that while it may feel like the pain is exclusive to the lower back, this is probably not the case, and so it’s vital to work on the other areas of the body, too. ‘Strengthening the abdominals, glutes, upper back and chest is also important, as your musculature is so interconnected that it’s rare that pain is coming from just one area,’ she says. Sticking to only the lower back – and overdoing it – can induce pain of its own, so always take it slow, and stretch to the point of slight discomfort, never pain.

How to do lower back stretches

Below, Stockley will demonstrate the best lower back stretches that could help ease lower back pain and tight muscles, but before you get into them, take note of her tips:

  • Allow the breath to activate the stretch and give your body time to settle into each stretch

  • Don’t strive for flexibility, just aim to open up the body and find space in the area of pain

  • Pay attention to the area of tension in the stretch – is it resisting? Does it soften? Does it feel better? Or has the lower back stretch made it feel more painful?

  • Avoid ballistic stretching (bounding into the stretch repeatedly) as these sudden movements can put more stress on the muscles

  • Hold each stretch for as long as feels comfortable – aim for 30 seconds each if you’re starting out, then build up to 2 minutes. If it's a dynamic stretch (i.e. you don't hold one static position), aim for 10 reps

How often should I do lower back stretches?

According to the NHS, you should aim to hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, and do 2 to 3 sets of stretches. If you're doing the stretches for lower back pain, try doing this routine 2 to 3 times per day. 'As you do more stretching you should feel your range of movement improve and you’ll be able to stretch further,' the NHS states.

Best lower back stretches to ease pain

1.Child’s pose

  1. Kneel, sitting back, knees part, with a block (or towel) in front.

  2. Exhale and lower your torso between (or on top of) your knees, stretching your arms out ahead, your forehead on the ground

2. Four-point kneeling thoracic rotation and thread the needle

  1. Start on all fours, ensure your knees are under your hips and your hands are underneath your shoulders, back flat, and elbows with a soft bend

  2. Take your right hand and thread it underneath the left arm allowing your right shoulder to drop towards the floor

  3. Stretch the right arm as far is comfortable mimicking a thread the needle type movement, then reach the left arm forwards

  4. Then bring the arm back through and continue the movement reaching the right arm up and over the body to rotate up to the ceiling

  5. Repeat on the opposite side

3. Supine twist

  1. Hug both knees into your chest, bring your arms out to either side at shoulder height, then drop your knees to one side at hip height

  2. Lift your legs on an inhale, return to centre, then twist to the other side on an exhale

4. Single-leg kneeling thoracic rotation

  1. Start in a lunge position, but keep your pelvis tucked and don’t lean into it. Bring your hands out in front of you, elbows bent, one hand on top of the other

  2. Twist your torso and arms towards the side of the front leg, and allow your gaze to follow

  3. When you reach full twist, release the back arm to full extension, then return so that both hands are stacked, and rotate your body back to neutral

  4. Repeat on the opposite side

5. Kneeling side stretch with circles

  1. Kneel on the floor with your legs together, back straight, and core tight, then extend your left leg out to the side. Keep it perpendicular to your body (not in front or behind you)

  2. Rest your right arm on the floor next to your right leg, and gently bend your torso and left arm overhead, to the right side. Keep your hips facing forward and gently circle forwards and back overhead

  3. Repeat on the opposite side

6. Standing back stretch

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and bring your arms out in front of you at eye level

  2. Interlace your fingers and round your back forwards as you slightly bend your knees

  3. Twist your torso to either side as you continue to reach forwards and round your upper back

  4. Repeat on the opposite side

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