How to Stretch Your Lower Back and Feel Less Stiff

A few gentle stretches can increase mobility and blood flow to your lower back and help you feel better fast.

How to Stretch Your Lower Back: Lower Back Stretches
Photo: Grace Canaan

Experts often say that movement is medicine (or maybe you've heard the expression "motion is lotion"), and this is especially true for preventing lower-back aches and stiffness, an extremely prevalent complaint among adults today. The 2018 National Health Interview Survey, for instance, reported that 28 percent of women and 31 percent of men had experienced lower-back pain in the past three months. While some lower back problems are caused by genetic bad luck or an acute injury, one of the main culprits is actually your daily habits. Sitting for long periods of time (or staying in one position, sitting or otherwise, for a long time) and not moving or stretching important body parts each day are common themes among those who complain of having lower-back stiffness, irritation, or immobility.

"Daily activities that you've grown accustomed to, like sitting at a desk or in a car for a long commute, can lead to chronic muscle shortening and tension, which can then lead to a decreased lumbar (a.k.a lower spine) range of motion," says chiropractor Kevin Lees, DC, manager of auditing and quality at The Joint Chiropractic in Phoenix.

That loss of range of motion in the lower back (or any joint) can increase your risk of injury over time, even from doing something as simple as reaching down to pick up a paper clip. "[Things rarely] fall in a place where [they] can easily be picked up—you have to bend, twist, and torque the back to reach for it," says Rahul Shah, M.D., a New Jersey-based, board-certified orthopedic spine and neck surgeon. "That combination of bending, twisting, and torquing is dangerous, as the muscles can easily be pushed to their limits and injuries can ensue."

In more severe cases, degenerative joint disease may even result from losing range of motion. "When a joint loses range of motion, it can start losing its water content, causing the health of the joint to break down," Lees says. As a result, the chance that you get tears in the fibers of your disks, something that happens with osteoarthritis, can increase.

How to Stretch Your Lower Back Correctly

There aren't any set-in-stone guidelines for how often to stretch your back muscles, but you should at least give it a good stretch before any vigorous or prolonged activity, Dr. Shah suggests. It's not a bad idea to take frequent back-stretching or mobility breaks throughout the day, especially if you spend most of your day seated.

While performing stretches for your lower back, try to relax, be gentle, and breathe deeply as much as possible. Otherwise, if your body is fighting against the movements, you won't achieve as effective a stretch where you need it most, Lees says. Also important: Never stretch past your comfort level, and remember that pain doesn't equal gain. This isn't the Presidential Fitness Test, and you have nothing to prove or win. Everybody's body is different and everyone has a different starting point and end limit. If you feel pain doing any of these stretches, back off by decreasing your range of motion or applying less force.

And if you have a bad back, check with a professional to make sure that any stretches you do aren't going to make your back pain worse, Dr. Shah says.

5 Basic Lower Back Stretches

So what stretches are best for the lower back? Here are five moves from Lees that either specifically target the lower back muscles or target surrounding muscle groups (like the glutes and quads) that, when tight or tender, can sneakily contribute lower back pain. While you can certainly do these one after another and even repeat them from top to bottom, you can also pick one or two stretches to do whenever your back needs some TLC.

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Supine Twist

Lower Back Stretch: Supine Twist Stretch
Grace Canaan

Lie face up on the floor with knees bent, feet flat on the floor and hip-width apart. Extend arms to the side in a T at shoulder height, palms facing up. Gently drop knees over to the right as far as feels comfortable and hold for 15 seconds to 30 seconds, breathing deeply (hold for longer—up to a minute—for a deeper stretch, Lees says). Place a cushion on the floor beneath knees for more support and a less intense stretch. You should feel a stretch in your lower back, obliques (side abs), and possibly even your lats and glutes if you're very tight. Return knees to center and repeat on the other side.

02 of 05

Child's Pose

Lower Back Stretch: Child's Pose Stretch
Grace Canaan

Start on the floor on hands and knees. Reach arms straight out in front, keeping palms flat on the floor, and lower hips back toward heels. Drop your head and chest down to the floor. Hold for 30 seconds, breathing deeply into the low back before releasing. Tight hips or painful in your back? Widen the angle of your knees and/or place a pillow or bolster under you for support. You can also use a pillow or bolster (or folded-up towel or blanket) under your forehead for support.

RELATED: 5 Easy, Everyday Hip Stretches for Anyone Who Sits All Day

03 of 05

Cat-Cow Stretch

Lower Back Stretch: Cat-Cow Stretch
Grace Canaan

For this active, but gentle stretch, start on hands and knees, wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. Round back up into cat pose: Tuck chin toward chest, let the shoulder blades melt away from spine, and tuck tailbone under. Hold for five seconds. Release and transition into cow pose: Lift nose up to the ceiling, tilt tailbone back up, and let belly and rib cage fall below the hips and shoulders. Hold for five seconds. Continue moving between cat and cow poses, moving slowly, fluidly, and with your breath, as many times as you'd like.

04 of 05

Figure Four Stretch

Lower Back Stretch: Figure Four Glute Stretch
Grace Canaan

This move will provide a deep stretch to your glute muscles, which, when tight and/or weak, can exacerbate back pain and stiffness.

Lie face up on the floor with both knees bent, feet flat on the floor and hip-width apart. Lift both knees up into tabletop (shins should be parallel to the ceiling). Cross right ankle over left knee (so left thigh and bent right leg resemble a "4"). Reach and wrap hands behind left thigh and slowly bring left knee toward chest. You should feel a deep stretch in the right butt cheek. Hold for 15 seconds. Release and switch sides, repeating three times.

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Standing Quad Stretch

Lower Back Stretch: Standing Quad Stretch with chair
Grace Canaan

Stand with a wall or sturdy chair next to your right side with feet together and right hand on the wall or chair for support. Lift left foot up (bring left heel toward glutes) and grab with left hand. Gently pull left heel up and in toward butt. Keep knees aligned and don't let back arch back or round forward. Hold for 15 seconds. Release and switch sides. For a deeper stretch, squeeze your left glute while stretching your left quad (and vice versa on the right).

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  1. CDC, QuickStats: Percentage of adults aged ≥18 years who had lower back pain in the past 3 months, by sex and age group — national health interview survey, United States, 2018. Accessed November 5, 2022.

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