7 Stretches to Relieve Back Pain

24 September, 2020
Stretching exercises are a good complement to prevent and improve back pain. How to start practicing them at home? In this article, we share seven ways to do them.

To effectively relieve back pain, it’s important to receive a medical diagnosis, especially if it’s a symptom that tends to recur. Treatment for this condition may include physical therapy sessions, drugs and, in severe cases, surgery. Are stretching exercises helpful?

In general, as a systematic review published in the journal Healthcare states, exercise programs that include muscle strength, flexibility, and aerobic fitness are beneficial for the rehabilitation of chronic nonspecific low back pain. Specifically, stretching exercises helps increase back tendon and ligament flexibility.

Due to this, they also help to increase range of motion and promote functional movement in case of muscle ailments or limitations. Of course, practiced within a routine, they can help to strengthen this area, which may help relieve back pain.

Exercises to relieve back pain

According to a study published in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics on spinal care, 80% of the world’s population suffers from back pain at some point in their life. This condition is considered a chronic health problem. It mostly affects adults with sedentary jobs.

However, thanks to interventions such as stretching exercises, it’s possible to reduce the tendency to suffer this pain during day-to-day activities. According to a publication in Harvard Health Publishing, stretching is “a valuable component of a treatment plan for anyone plagued by back problems”.

Since it promotes muscle flexibility, it reduces the risk of injury and the tendency to suffer discomfort. In contrast, when the muscles and connective tissues lack flexibility, joint mobility is restricted and strains may occur.

Are you ready to start? Firstly, experts from Harvard University advise doing the stretches gently, without bouncing, as this can cause injuries. If you don’t have a routine yet, it’s best to do them gradually, starting at a low intensity.

1. Knees-to-chest

A woman doing knees-to-chest exercise.
Elevating your knees to your chest is a simple exercise to relieve back pain.
  • Put a yoga mat on the floor. Lay on your back with your legs straight.
  • Raise one knee to your chest. Grab it with both hands.
  • Keep the position for 30 seconds and return to the resting position. Repeat with the other knee.
  • Complete 10 times with each knee.

Note: If you can, do a more advanced version of this stretch by bringing both knees to your chest at the same time. You do that instead of alternating.

Visit this article: 4 Things Your Knees Say About Your Health

2. Stretched legs

The hamstrings are muscles that start in your pelvis and go down to your tibia. They’re related to the movements of your hips. Many times, when there’s general pain, they need to receive treatment.

  • To stretch them, sit up straight on the floor. Make a right angle (90º) with your left knee.
  • Grab the toes of your right foot with your hand. Then, extend your right leg as far as you can.  Be sure to keep your back straight. Also, you should have the bottom of your right foot facing the ceiling.
  • Keep this position for a few seconds. Repeat three times. Then, switch and do the same stretch with your left leg.

3. Back extensions

The back extension is a basic exercise to treat discomfort in this area of the body. You can do this activity on the floor or on a firm surface such as a bed.

  • Firstly, lie face down.
  • Then, put your hands behind your neck and interlock your fingers.
  • Raise your shoulders and head. You should raise them backwards, trying to arch your spine. Mostly, you should be trying to arch your middle and upper back. You should feel your shoulder blades coming together.
  • Your movements should be slow and careful.
A woman doing a back extension.
This simple exercise can help relieve low back tension.

4. Hip twists

The hip twist is a staple exercise for those who seek to relieve back pain. The movement involves muscles such as erectors spinae, hips, and glutes.

  • Lay face up on a yoga mat and leave your legs straight and together. Put your arms by your sides.
  • Turn your hips to the right and twist your knees to the left while keeping them together.
  • Try to keep both of your shoulders flat on the ground so the stretch is perfect.
  • Hold the posture for 10 seconds, rest, then repeat with the left side. Do this stretch five times with each side.

5. Hip stretch

Pain in the lower back, or lumbar area, affects many people who lift heavy objects or are on their feet all day. This exercise is ideal for stretching the lower back and hips.

  • Kneel on the floor. Put your right foot on the floor in front of you by bending your knee.
  • Raise your body and left knee. The top of your left foot should keep touching the floor. To keep your balance and to stretch better, grab onto your right knee with both of your hands.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds. Don’t forget that your back should be straight this whole time.
  • Alternate the movement by bending your left leg.

6. The cat exercise to relieve back pain

The cat stretch.
The cat stretch can mitigate low back tension. Therefore, it may help prevent and relieve low back discomfort.

They call this the cat exercise because it resembles a cat stretching. This is something that cats do after sleeping or sitting for a long time. This is an exercise that’s used a lot in pilates. It’s also used in rehabilitation exercises because it helps to make your spine flexible and stretches the muscles in your back.

  • Kneel on the floor with both knees. Put the palms of your hands on the floor in front of you and your toes on the floor behind you.
  • Keep your back straight for a few seconds. Then, arch your back.
  • Hold this position for a few seconds. Then, arch your back the opposite way, stretching your stomach.
  • Repeat multiple times.

Don’t forget to control your breathing and do this exercise slowly!

You may like: 8 Tips for Better Posture and Healthier Back

7. Full back stretch

To finish this simple routine to relieve back pain, you can do this exercise. It’s quite complete, as it strengthens both your back and core muscles.

  • Standing with your legs together, bend forward as much as you can so that your back is parallel to the floor.
  • Then, stretch your arms out in front of you as much as you can to keep your back in a straight line. You can use a chair or table for support.
  • Push your shoulders forward to stretch each muscle in your back.
  • Hold this position for as long as you can. When you’re done, get up slowly so you don’t get dizzy.
  • If it’s hard for you to do with your feet together, you can open them so they’re shoulder-width apart.

Do these stretching exercises frequently

Remember that these exercises can help you relieve back pain, as long as you practice them frequently. It’s useless to do them sporadically. On the other hand, if the pain is severe or if you have other symptoms, you should go see your doctor.

  • Gordon R, Bloxham S. A Systematic Review of the Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Non-Specific Chronic Low Back Pain. Healthcare (Basel). 2016;4(2):22. Published 2016 Apr 25. doi:10.3390/healthcare4020022
  • Friedly J, Standaert C, Chan L. Epidemiology of spine care: the back pain dilemma. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2010;21(4):659–677. doi:10.1016/j.pmr.2010.08.002
  • Jandre Reis FJ, Macedo AR. Influence of Hamstring Tightness in Pelvic, Lumbar and Trunk Range of Motion in Low Back Pain and Asymptomatic Volunteers during Forward Bending. Asian Spine J. 2015;9(4):535‐540. doi:10.4184/asj.2015.9.4.535