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8 Stretches for Lower Back Pain Relief (and one to avoid!)

8 Stretches for Lower Back Pain Relief (and one to avoid!)

Lower back pain affects a surprising number of people—an estimated 31 million Americans! It’s the single leading cause of disability in the world and the most common cause of missed work. Up to 80% of the world’s population will experience back pain at some point in their life. More than $50 billion is spent every year on treatment for and prevention of back pain.

Pretty serious stuff, right? Lower back pain is NOT something to take lightly. If left untreated, it can go from mild discomfort to severely painful even to debilitating. It’s of the utmost importance that you do whatever you can to prevent and treat back pain before it gets serious.

What’s the most effective way of treating back pain? That’s right: exercise!

Lower Back Pain Relief

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Resistance training (lifting weights) and core training can strengthen the muscles that support your spine. Stronger spinal erectors will protect your spinal column and reduce the risk of strain or injury. But strengthening to increase stabilization of your spine isn’t the only way to go. You also need to spend time improving the flexibility and mobility of your spinal muscles and joints. That means doing regular stretches BEFORE and AFTER your workout.

There is also a particular stretch perceived to help with lower back pain that we at Athletes Insight definitely DO NOT RECOMMEND. Enter, the Spinal Stretch. For the unaware, a common description can be seen below:


Spinal Stretch (Not Recommended)

This stretch will get your back muscles and joints accustomed to twisting (the movement most commonly responsible for injuries). It’s a great stretch to limber up before a boxing, kickboxing, MMA, or other workout that involves twisting your body.

To perform the movement:

Lie on your back on the floor. Bring your right knee up and place your left hand on the outside of the knee. Pull the knee to the left until it touches the floor. Keep your right arm extended and your shoulders touching the ground as you pull the knee to the floor. Hold for 20 seconds, then repeat on the right side with the left leg.

NOW- The problem with this stretch (and other lower back pain twisting stretches), is that your back is not particularly designed for twisting, particularly your lower (lumbar) spine. The area of the spine most adept for twisting is the thoracic spine (you know, that area where you see folks with a hunchback look going on).

“But it feels good!” I hear you cry. Well, unfortunately getting into the habit of twisting and releasing your lower back in this way only creates a brief and fleeting sense of pain relief; what’s worse is it leads to diminishing returns, and a desire to do it again, and again, and again, like an addict. Perhaps you are a prime culprit- stretching your lumbar spine in the morning, feeling a bit better, only to wake up next day and feeling worse until you do it again. As you can see, this can quickly end up making your situation worse.

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The key is to mobilize the thoracic spine, stabilize the lumbar spine and hips, and reduce unnecessary spinal flexion as best you can (less hunching over whilst you sit at your desk please). This is achieved through stability strengthening & resistance training of the back and spine in non-twisting movements.

To increase the range of pain-free movement through your back and lower spine WITHOUT twisting, here are the best stretches that improve back mobility and flexibility. They also are excellent stretches to alleviate pain in your lower back:


Hamstring Floor Stretch

This is an epic stretch for your glutes and hamstrings, the muscles of your butt and legs that connect to your lower back muscles. Lower back injuries are often caused by your lower back trying to compensate for a lack of strength or flexibility in your hamstrings and glutes.

To perform the movement:

Lie on your back on the floor, with your legs extended. Without bending your knee, bring your right leg upward. Clasp your hands behind your thigh and pull the leg toward your chest. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat with the other leg.


Knee to Chest Stretch

This stretch helps to pull on the lower back and gluteal muscles, loosening them up. If you’ve been sitting down for hours, this is the perfect way to limber up before an intense workout.

To perform the movement:

Lie on your back on the floor. Bend your right knee and bring it up to your chest, keeping your left leg extended. Grip your shin with both hands and pull the knee as close to your chest as possible. Hold for 30 seconds then repeat with the left knee.


Forward Bend

This is a classic stretch to limber up the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles. The lower you go, the better the stretch!

To perform the movement:

Stand with your feet spread slightly (not quite shoulder width apart). Raise your hands high overhead, bend forward, and let your head, shoulders, and hands hang low. Take deep breaths and feel the stretch in your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.


Piriformis Stretch

This is an excellent stretch to limber up your lower back, hamstrings, and glutes one leg at a time. Add this into your pre-workout stretch routine if you’re going to cycle, run, or engage in any kickboxing/martial arts training.

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To perform the movement:

Lie on your back on the floor, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your right leg and place your ankle on your left thigh. Clasp your hands behind your left leg and pull it to your chest. You’ll feel the stretch in your right leg. Hold for 20 seconds, then repeat on the other side.


Prone Quadriceps Stretch

This exercise helps to work those quadriceps (thigh muscles) to give you better leg mobility. The more mobile and flexible your legs and hips, the less your lower back has to compensate when you move.

To perform the movement:

Lie on your right side, with your legs extended. Bend your left leg and reach your left hand to grab the ankle. Pull the ankle as close to your bottom as possible without moving your knee. Hold for 30 seconds, then turn onto your left side to repeat with your right leg.


Cobra Pose

This classic Yoga pose is amazing for stretching out your lower back. Perform it before an intense resistance training or HIIT running session to reduce stiffness.

To perform the movement:

Lie on your stomach. Place your hands on the floor and push yourself upward until your arms are extended. Your back should be arched upward. Hold for 30 seconds.


Cat Stretch

This stretch is AMAZING for loosening tight lower back muscles. It can help to work out aches and kinks after a tough workout, or deal with lower back pains.

To perform the movement:

Get on your hands and knees. Inhale and push your chest down, then arch your back upward on the exhale. Repeat 5-10 times.


Child’s Pose

You’ll love this stretch if you’ve got an aching lower back. It helps to loosen up your hips and pulls your spine into alignment.

To perform the movement:

Get on your hands and knees. Without lifting your hands from the floor, sit back until your butt touches your feet. Take deep breaths and feel the stretch in your spine. Hold for 30 seconds.


These stretches can be done before or after a workout, or even around the house or office if you’re feeling any lower back pain / ache in your back. The more time you spend working on your flexibility, the lower your risk of injuries in the future.

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