Lower back pain can put a real damper on training and performance. If you feel a bit stiff, you can try to warm and relax your muscles with some slow, careful stretching. Be sure to check out our tips and warnings at the end of this article for some additional help.
Ball or Foam Rolling
Stretches for Lower Back Tightness
Sometimes lower back pain can be resolved by using objects for massage, also known by physical therapists as “self-myofascial release.” You can do this either with a small ball (like a golf ball or bocce ball) or a foam roller which is designed for this purpose.
Prop yourself up with your hands and place the affected area of your lower back over the ball or roller. Slowly rock back and forth (forward and back as well as side to side) and roll around in circles. You can use weights on your lower stomach and hips to increase the pressure if you’re seeking a really deep knot. It can be useful to go lower or higher than you think the muscle tightness is. Sometimes the mid-back and glutes are holding stress that radiates pain throughout your lower back, so work a large enough area to get all of the bases covered.
When you first hit a knot, it may be painful. Back off the pressure and slowly work back and forth over the knot until the tightness starts to release. When the pain lessens, you can move onto another area.
A sunrise stretch is one you can perform in the morning while you’re still in bed. This helps the muscles loosen and relax enough to get you through any early morning exercise while the muscles are still warm from being under the covers. This stretch was recommended by chiropractor Gerald M. Silverman.
You can either lie on your back or on your side with the leg against the bed being slightly bent. Slowly pull either leg (if you’re on your back) or the top leg (if you’re on your side) toward your chest by bending at the knee. Stop when you feel a stretch in your lower back and then slowly return your leg. You can repeat this on the other side, but never pull both knees to your chest at the same time.
You’ll need a chair with a backrest or tall arms for this exercise. Sit on the side of the chair with your right side facing the backrest. Keep your feet flat and together on the floor. Stretch your spine upwards to sit tall and to help decompress your vertebrae. Slowly twist to the side and grab the backrest with your hands. Pull on the backrest until you feel the stretch and then slowly return to face forward. Repeat on both sides.
This stretch is from My Five Minute Yoga.
Lying Spinal Twist
This stretch helps your lower back muscles while also helping your spine realign itself.
Lie on your back on the floor. Exhale slowly and draw your right knee to your chest. Extend your right arm straight out to the side with your palm facing down. While keeping your shoulder blades flat on the floor, rotate your hips to your right using your left hand to keep your knee up toward your chest. Stop rotating when your right hip is facing the ceiling (or as far as you can go without pain in your lower back) and hold for 30 to 45 seconds. Then slowly come back to the center and switch sides.
This version of the spinal twist is from Yoga Outlet.
Standing Spinal Curve
You can perform this stretch standing or seated. The general motion is the same either way.
If you choose to stand, keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Interlock your fingers and turn your palms outward, keeping your elbows and knees slightly bent. Tighten your abs and begin rounding your back backwards. Keep your arms extended straight in front of you. You can target the sides of your lower back by slowly leaning left or right.
This stretch was compiled by Judy Fisk, a dancer and fitness instructor.
Standing Pelvic Tilt
This stretch uses a basic squat position. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and slowly lower into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground, making sure to keep your knees from going past your toes. Use your abs to scoop your hips forward and upward. Hold it as far in this direction as you can for 5 to 10 seconds and then return to the normal squat position. Repeat this motion 10 times. You can rest your hands on your thighs or take breaks if the squat becomes hard to hold.
This stretch was also compiled by Judy Fisk for its combination of a stretch and squat exercise.
If the individual stretches are not enough, consider switching to a stretch that requires multiple phases. This is like a mini-workout to relieve the pressure and tightness in your lower back by stretching the muscles and spine in multiple directions.
First, lie on your back on the floor, using a pillow under your head if necessary. Bend your knees up so your feet are flat on the floor. Your lower back should naturally rise off the ground. If it doesn’t, bring your feet closer to your back. Once your back is arching off the ground, tighten your abdominals until your back lowers to the floor and hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat up to 10 times.
Second, extend your legs until they’re slightly bent at the knee with your heels on the floor. Bend your left knee toward your chest, clasping your arms around your shin to hold it in a deep stretch for 20 seconds. Switch legs and repeat on each side for 5 reps.
Third, flip onto your stomach with your legs extended straight behind you. Place you hands flat on the floor underneath your shoulders, as if you were going to perform a push-up. Keep your legs relaxed and straight on the floor as you push up your upper body. As your chest rises off the floor, lean backwards to curve your spine. You should feel a stretch in your lower back. Hold for 10 seconds and lower down again. You can repeat this up to 10 times.
Fourth, you’ll perform a variant of the Lying Spinal Twist. Return to lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Keep your knees together and roll your hips to the left. Hold for 10 seconds and rotate your hips to the right. Repeat up to 5 times on each side.
Tips & Warnings
- To warm your muscles up, try walking at a moderate pace for 10 minutes. Stretching a cold muscle may cause injury.<l/i>
- Be sure to not overextend your muscles. If the stretching seems to make the pain worse, stop and seek advice from a doctor or physical therapist.
- Don’t rush the stretches. Instead, slowly ease into them.
- Stop before you feel pain. You should feel a slight discomfort, but never go to the point of a burning or piercing pain. This could be damaging instead of soothing the muscle.
- It is better to do several reps of a lighter stretch than a deep one that may be harmful.
- Don’t forget to breathe! This tip always sounds obvious, but when people are focused on the stretch, they commonly hold their breath without even knowing it. You don’t have to perform deep yoga breaths, either. Just breathe normally.
- Make stretching a daily habit. You don’t want to keep using stretches as a solution or a band-aid for lower back problems. Stretching on a daily basis helps keep the muscles soft and loose.
- When your lower back tightness is relieved, consider some workouts that target the lower back and glutes. This well help your muscles better support your weight to prevent future tightness.
- Maintain good posture throughout the day. A lot of lower back tightness is caused by (or worsened by) our constant sitting at desks, tables, computers, cars, etc. Keeping your spine elongated and your shoulders back can help prevent some of the pressure that builds up from sitting.
- Consider adding lumbar support in your chairs. You may want to use a pillow, sweatshirt or other soft object behind the curve in your lower back to help support your posture while sitting.
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