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Whether you’ve been practicing cruddy posture, you went a little too hard at the gym, or you’re lucky enough to be in the demographic where throwing your back out is a legitimate concern, lower back stretches are your secret weapon for happy muscles and reduced pain.
Since developing good muscle recovery habits can be the difference between dancing the cha-cha and a life on the couch, we selected nine of the best lower back stretches to strengthen, lengthen, and relax your muscles.
Go slowly, listen to your body (not all of us are limber ballerinas), and watch that lower back pain melt away.
This is a great option for recovery, for waking up your body before settling in at your desk, or for any time you’re craving movement.
- Lie faceup with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Link your hands around right hamstring or, for a deeper stretch, right shin.
- Keeping left leg straight on the floor, slowly pull right leg toward chest until you feel a stretch in your lower back.
- Hold knee against your chest for 30 seconds to 1 minute, trying throughout to release tension in your legs, hips, and lower back.
- Repeat on the other side. Do 3 sets.
Perform this tried-and-true yoga stretch before and after exercise, whether you have back pain or not.
- Start on hands and knees. Tilt your head upward and curve your spine downward. This is the “cow” movement.
- Hold for 5–10 seconds.
- Return to the neutral starting position.
- Arch your back toward the ceiling and let your head drop toward the floor. This is the “cat” movement.
- Repeat both movements 10–15 times, or until pain subsides.
Pro tip: You can also do this stretch in a seated position.
If you don’t already own a foam roller, now’s the perfect time to get one. Whether you’re into fitness or not, it’s worth every penny.
- Place the roller on the floor.
- Sit on the floor in front of the roller and lie back onto it, keeping feet flat on the floor.
- Gently roll forward and back, slowing down or stopping if you feel pain. (A little pressure in tender spots is OK.)
- If possible, sit just in front of the roller and arch your back over the roller as far as is comfortable. Hold for a few seconds.
Take care with this one, since it’s a little more advanced.
- Lie on your stomach with elbows under shoulders and palms flat on the floor.
- Gently flex glutes and lower back while lifting head and chest, all while pressing your pelvis into the floor.
- Hold your gaze straight, if possible. For a deeper stretch, straighten arms while continuing to press your pelvis into the floor.
- Hold this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Repeat as needed.
This stretch strengthens your glutes, hamstrings, and abdominal muscles, which in turn helps relieve lower back pain — win!
- Lie faceup with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Raise your bum and flex your abs, pressing your back into the floor.
- Hold this position up to 10 seconds, breathing normally.
- Repeat up to 15 times.
This whole-body stretch — another yoga classic — targets your glutes, hamstrings, and spinal extensors (all factors in back pain) as well as your upper back and quads.
- Start on hands and knees. Sink hips as far as possible toward heels.
- Hinge forward at your hips while keeping back, neck, and arms straight.
- Walk arms forward as far as possible or sweep them to the sides behind you, with palms facing up.
- Hold this pose up to 1 minute, breathing smoothly and taking care not to hold any tension.
This stretch simulates the movement of a back extension machine, so you know it’s good. While you stretch, you’ll strengthen your abs, upper back, and glutes, all of which can contribute to lower back pain.
- Lie facedown with hands by your head, elbows bent.
- Keeping feet and hips in contact with the floor, use your glutes and back muscles to lift head and chest off the floor.
- Do your best to squeeze your shoulder blades together and keep your gaze on the floor in front of you.
- Hold this pose a few seconds. Gradually lower to the floor.
- Repeat 5–10 times, resting briefly between reps.
This classic twist increases rotational mobility in your lower spine and stretches your obliques, shoulders, and neck.
- Sit upright on the floor with legs straight in front of you.
- Cross left leg over right leg and place left foot alongside outer right thigh.
- Extend straight right arm down and across your bent left leg.
- Straighten your left arm a few inches behind you, with palm on the floor.
- Press right arm against left leg and gently twist to the left. Hold for a few seconds.
- Repeat on the other side.
While this stretch targets your hamstrings, it has a bonus effect of relieving lower back pain. Don’t believe us? Try it for yourself!
- Find a box, bench, or stool stable enough to stand on. A stair also works.
- Holding a light dumbbell or kettlebell with both hands, stand at the edge of the box and slowly curl forward and down, letting the weight dangle. Be sure to maintain control as you lower.
- Let the weight sink as far as possible, ideally farther than your feet. Hold for 10 seconds at the bottom.
- Slowly curl back up, 1 vertebra at a time.
- Repeat 5 times, trying to reach deeper each time.
If lower back pain sticks around, stretching may not be the solution. If any of these stretches cause pain or leave you feeling worse, it could be a sign of a nerve issue or an injured disc. If that’s the case, stretching could actually make the problem worse.
Call your doctor if pain lingers and impacts your day-to-day life. In general, the best approach to back pain isn’t treatment but prevention. Doing some or all of these stretches regularly should keep your back healthy and flexible and help keep pain from returning.