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These easy lower back exercises can help relieve tightness, improve flexibility and more.
Suffering from lower back pain? You’re not alone — according to
the Cleveland Clinic, approximately four out of five people have lower back pain at some point in their lives. "In a young and healthy person, back pain can happen from sitting too long and/or inactivity due to muscle shortening," says Theresa Marko, PT, DPT, MS, a board-certified orthopedic physical therapy specialist based in New York City. "As one gets older, back pain might stem from joint stiffness and arthritis as well as from stenosis — a narrowing of the spinal cord canal." Other common causes of lower back pain include myofascial pain (a chronic pain deep within muscle tissue) and disc herniation.
Thankfully, there’s an easy way to help relieve or prevent that stiffness in your back: by regularly stretching your lower back. "Stretching can help relieve lower back pain by improving the range of motion of the spine," explains Christine Villoch, M.D., vice-chair, Division of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and Pain Management at Miami Neuroscience Institute’s Spine Center. In fact, a 2017 study published by the Annals of Internal Medicine found that yoga can be as effective as physical therapy in alleviating symptoms of chronic low back pain.
Beginners can start by stretching for five to 10 minutes about two or three times a week, says Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, NASM-CPT, the Good Housekeeping Institute‘s deputy nutrition director and Certified Personal Trainer. However, if you’re experiencing active back pain — or you’re sitting in a chair for most of the day — Marko recommends doing these stretches daily, if not a couple of times a day. You can complete these moves at any time, but Sassos advises incorporating them into your morning stretches, as your muscles tend to be tightest in the morning.
Beyond just regularly stretching, it’s a good idea to exercise and keep active, too. "Along with stretching exercises, core strengthening exercises are also very important to alleviate back pain as well as prevent it from returning," says Dr. Villoch. Below, we rounded up eight of the most effective lower back exercises and stretches, as recommended by orthopedic and fitness experts.
"Oftentimes, tight hip flexors can be the biggest contributor to lower back pain and tightness," says Sassos. "If you’re in a prolonged sitting position, like at a desk job all day, this can directly affect your hip flexors and contribute to lower back pain and tightness." A kneeling hip flexor stretch can help loosen your hips to relieve and prevent back pain.
How to do a (kneeling) hip flexor stretch:
There are several different ways to do a hamstring stretch depending on your preference, but Marko recommends lying down and using a strap or exercise resistance band, as you can relax your back in this position. You should feel a stretch at the iliotibial band (a band of fibrous tissue that runs along the outside of your leg), adds Dr. Villoch.
How to do a (lying) hamstring stretch:
According to Marko, another good pose that focuses on the muscles of your lower back is the double knee-to-chest stretch. You can also do another variation, a single knee-to-chest stretch, with just one leg.
How to do a double knee-to-chest stretch:
Marko also recommends trying the piriformis stretch, also known as a supine figure 4 stretch. This specific exercise works your piriformis muscle — a flat muscle that runs from your lower spine through your buttocks to the top of your thighs, as noted by the Mayo Clinic.
How to do a piriformis stretch:
The seated spinal twist stretch is also known as the Half Lord of the Fishes Pose (or Ardha Matsyendrasana) in yoga, as indicated by the non-profit organization The Art of Living Foundation, which offers self-development programs based on meditation and yoga. "This full-body stretch is amazing for improving spinal mobility, alleviating lower back pain and opening up the hips, among many other benefits," adds Sassos.
How to do a seated spinal twist:
Another common yoga pose, child’s pose is a fast and easy way to gently stretch your back and the muscles around your hips, according to officials at the Mayo Clinic. If you’re having trouble laying your forehead on the ground fully, you can switch it up by resting your forehead on your arms instead.
How to do the child’s pose:
This dynamic stretch involves moving the lower back muscles in two different directions. "You’ll gently mobilize the spine and release tension with this popular stretch that works great as a warm-up and can improve posture too," says Sassos.
How to do the cat-cow stretch:
According to Sassos, this exercise not only reduces stiffness in the lower back by stretching out those tense muscles — it’s also great for engaging specific core muscles, like your abdominal muscles.
How to do a pelvic tilt:
Hannah Jeon is an Associate Commerce Editor at Prevention, where she covers expert-driven commerce content for all things health, beauty, and wellness. Previously the Editorial Assistant at Good Housekeeping, she earned her bachelor’s degree in creative writing and psychology from Johns Hopkins University. When she’s not on the hunt for all the best products online, you can often find her trying out new food spots in New York City or clicking away behind a camera.
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