If you are one of the more than 31 million people who struggle with low back pain then you know, getting up in the morning is hard! Not just the waking up part, but the getting up and standing up part. It’s like, sometime during the night, something steamrolled over your entire body and then when you open your eyes and start to move the next morning your whole body just protests. You get out of bed and you’re hunched over, shuffling across the floor.
But here’s a surprise — mornings don’t actually have to be this way! Doing some key stretches either before bed, or right when you wake up, can set a whole new tone for mornings! I know, it seems impossible to add one more thing to your day when there is already so much to do, but spending some time stretching in the morning feels so delicious that if you try it for two weeks and don’t like it, we will be shocked! We checked out some of the most commonly prescribed stretches specifically for low back pain and included some basic steps on how to perform them. Trust us — you will want to make time for these amazing stretches! Here are the nation’s top 5 stretches for low back pain.
1. Knee To Chest
The Knee To Chest Stretch is commonly used in both physical therapy and in yoga classes. It is so relaxing and easy to do that you can even do it while you are lying in bed! The knee to chest stretch is a great one to do at the end of the day, especially after you have been sitting hunched over at the computer. It is also a great stretch for those who regularly do more strenuous activities like housework or heavy lifting. This stretch feels amazing and it is a great way to restore flexibility to your low back muscles.
In the beginning you should probably start with just one leg at a time and then, if it isn’t causing any pain, you can move on to a double leg stretch. While this stretch is safe for most people who have low back pain, if your back pain is caused or accompanied by osteoporosis, you should avoid this stretch as it can increase the risk of compression fractures in your vertebrae. If you are unsure if this stretch will be safe for your particular back condition, it is always a good idea to check with your healthcare provider first.
How to perform the Knee to Chest Stretch:
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet placed firmly on the floor (this is called the supine position).
Slowly bring one knee into your hands and gently pull your knee towards your chest.
Hold this position for 3–5 seconds
Slowly release your bent leg back to the floor.
Rest for 3 seconds
Repeat with the opposite leg.
2. Trunk Rotation
The trunk muscles are vital to almost any movement you make with your body. The trunk muscles provide stability to our movements and help with everything from walking to balancing. The muscles that make up our trunk muscles include the rectus abdominis, pyramidalis, external abdominal oblique, internal abdominal oblique and the transverse abdominis. These muscles are more commonly known as your core.
The trunk (or core) muscles can weaken or tighten up if they are not regularly strengthened or used. Things like sitting for a long time can cause the muscles to weaken and can end up causing pain. When our shoulders are slumped or we don’t sit up straight, our core weakens and our posture suffers. A weak core is one of the main causes of low back pain.
With this in mind, the trunk rotation stretch (also sometimes referred to as a supine spinal twist) is a very popular exercise that is often used by trainers and physical therapists to reduce low back pain. The trunk rotation stretch increases your core strength, as well as improving stability, mobility and flexibility of the spine.
The trunk rotation stretch is easily modified with lots of options as to which one feels best for your body. You can also continue to make modifications and challenge yourself as you start to get stronger.
How To Perform The Trunk Rotation:
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor (supine position).
Keeping your knees together, slowly lower them to touch the floor.
Hold for 3–5 seconds.
While contracting your abdominal muscles, slowly raise your knees to the center.
Slowly lower your knees to the opposite site and hold for 3–5 seconds.
Repeat 5–10 times each side.
When performing this activity you should make sure that both shoulder blades stay on the floor and that you are not raising one shoulder as you twist.
3. Cat-Cow Stretch
The Cat-Cow stretch is a wonderful stretch, based on a yoga pose that is designed to improve posture and balance. It is a great stretch for supporting your back and helping to maintain a healthy spine. This makes it an ideal stretch for those who suffer from low back pain. The Cat-Cow stretch is excellent for stretching and strengthening the neck and spine, and is great for improving coordination. This stretch can be done as part of a yoga sequence to warm up, or to relax, so you can do it morning or evening, or both if you are really enjoying it.
When you do movements that both flex and extend the spine, you can significantly improve circulation in the discs in your back. The “cat” part of the stretch loosens the spine while stretching the hips and abdomen. It releases tension in the back and the neck. This movement is all about flexing and rounding the spine as you contract your abdomen. On the opposite side, in cow pose the spine is extended and the sternum and tailbone are lifted, lengthening everything. By incorporating both movements, your spine is fully mobilized.
The Cat-Cow stretch is also a great way to relax as the movement is often linked to your breathing. This makes it a great way to relax your muscles and ease some of the day’s stress. With its calming properties, it is an excellent stretch to do before getting into bed.
How To Perform The Cat Stretch:
Kneel on all fours with your hands placed directly under the shoulders and your knees directly under your hips (table top position)
Make sure that your weight is evenly distributed between all four points.
Looking forward, take a deep breath in, feeling a slight contraction of your abdominal muscles.
Gently tuck your chin into your chest, dropping your head, and slowly exhale.
As you do this, draw your belly button in towards your spine, and round your spine towards the ceiling.
Stretching out your fingers, firmly push the mat away from your body and focus on creating a space between your shoulder blades.
Hold this pose for 3–5 seconds.
Slowly round out of this position, returning your spine to a neutral position, coming back to your initial tabletop position.
How To Perform The Cow Stretch:
From your tabletop position, inhale slowly, gently tilting your head back and raising your chin to the ceiling.
Use your arms to gently push yourself away from the mat, pushing your chest forward.
Gently curve your back slightly, lifting your tailbone towards the ceiling and drawing your chest up and forward.
Slowly exhale, rounding your spine and coming back into your tabletop position.
Rotate between these two movements for 5–10 rounds, linking your inhales to the cow movement, and your exhales to the cat stretch. Feel the release of tension in your body as you move through this stretch.
3. Bird Dog Stretch:
The Bird Dog Stretch is another fantastic exercise for strengthening your core muscles, using both the abdominals and the back muscles. Because of its ability to target the lower back muscles so effectively, physical therapists and trainers often suggest this stretch for patients who have lower back issues. It is a wonderful movement to improve the alignment of your spine, strengthen your glutes, and improve stability and balance.
Probably the number one challenge with this stretch is that it requires a bit of coordination. You might feel a bit awkward in the beginning, but after a few tries you will soon get the hang of it! The key to the stretch is to be very intentional with your movements. Form over speed will help you to focus and coordinate. As you get stronger, some people even use light weights to make this more challenging. Using a towel or mat under your body can make this comfortable if you need some extra cushioning under your hands and knees.
How To Perform The Bird Dog Stretch:
Start in the tabletop position, on all fours.
Align your knees so that they are directly under your hips and so that your hands are directly under your shoulders.
Slightly engage your abdominal muscles by drawing your belly in towards your back. This will help you maintain a neutral spine and prevent arching of your back. (It is often helpful to look at yourself in a mirror to make sure that your spine is flat.)
Draw your shoulder blades together.
Slowly raise your right arm and your left leg while keeping your shoulders and hips parallel to the floor.
Make sure that you are not looking forward, but rather that your gaze is towards the floor.
Hold this position for 3–5 seconds, then gently lower your arm and leg back down to the floor, returning to your original tabletop position.
Engage your abdominal muscles again and this time, slowly raise the left arm and the right leg, while keeping the rest of your body parallel with the floor.
Hold this position for 3–5 seconds, then gently lower your arm and leg back to the floor, to your original tabletop position. This is one round.
Perform this stretch for 6 rounds.
5. Pelvic Tilt
The Pelvic Tilt is one of the easiest low back stretches that you can do and it is an amazing move to strengthen your abdominals and stretch out your back! Doing pelvic tilts regularly can reap huge benefits in terms of pain reduction and easing the tension in your low back. Because pelvic tilts are so easy and safe to do (even pregnant ladies can do them), they are one of the most recommended stretches for low back pain.
The research behind this exercise shows that pelvic tilts concentrate on two main groups of abdominal muscles, the transverse abdominis (muscles that wrap around the spine, and help to stabilize it) and the multifidus (muscles that stretch and rotate the spine). As your pelvis rocks back and forth it moves between flexing and extending, and this movement helps to restore mobility to the spine.
The main benefit of the pelvic tilt is to strengthen your lower abdominal muscles and stretch out your lower back, but it is important to make sure that the movement is done correctly.
How To Perform The Pelvic Tilt:
Lie on the floor with your legs bent and your toes facing forward (supine position).
Draw your belly button in toward your spine, gently pushing your pelvis up towards the ceiling.
Squeeze your glutes (buttocks) and hip muscles as you slowly tilt your pelvis forward.
Hold this position for 5 seconds.
Slowly release and return to the original neutral position. This is one repetition.
Do 5 sets of 20 repetitions.
Benefits of Stretching For Low Back Pain
While low back pain is extremely common, these simple exercises can help improve strength and flexibility, reducing pain and improving mobility. Even if you don’t have time to do stretches every day, doing these exercises, just 3 times a week, can make a significant difference to how your back feels. It can also give you more energy and vitality throughout your week. Regular stretching assists in protecting your back by improving flexibility and decreasing your risk of further injury. It has been shown to improve your circulation, increasing blood flow to muscles and reducing muscle soreness. But the best thing about it? You just feel amazing! By taking a few minutes to do something for yourself each day, it can put a whole new spin on how you feel. You will feel proud and excited to have done something to add to your wellness journey.
What are your favorite stretches? When do you like to do them? How do you make time for yourself each week? We would love to hear from you! Write a comment or tag us in social media doing your favorite stretch!