The best stretches for the lower back to release tight muscles and reduce pain

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Release pain and tension from the lower back with these simple stretches.

Modern life sets us up for all kinds of ailments, whether it’s tight hips or hunched shoulders. But pain in our lower back is the most common of all of them.  

There’s lots of reasons why, from weak muscles to bad posture and more serious issues like scoliosis, but the pain we feel in our back can also be the fault of other muscles and joints. “It’s often a referred pain,” explains Chatty Dobson, yoga teacher and owner of Flex Chelsea. “For instance, if we spend a lot of time sitting, running or cycling, our psoas muscle will tighten. The psoas are a pair of large muscles running from the lumbar spine, through the pelvis to the femur (thigh bone). When these tighten our lower back can feel sore, though it’s really the hip flexors and psoas that need stretching out.”

It’s important to focus on full body mobility, strength and flexibility to stop your back from hurting. But, in saying that, there’s nothing quite like releasing the tension out of a sore back with a good stretch. Chatty says that you should do a mixture of dynamic stretches – those with a little movement or pulses – and static, or still, holds. 

“Dynamic movement increases the mobility of the muscle group being focused on, and also increases blood flow to that area,” she explains. “Static stretches get into the fascia in the joints, bringing increased blood and synovial fluid to tight areas. But static stretches pre-exercise can bring a looseness to the body that will not support you through a workout.”

These are some of her favourite stretches for the lower back to help relieve pain. 

Forward fold

Bringing the feet hip width apart, deeply bend the knees and fold forward. Tilt your pelvis forwards to release the lower back, taking the tail bone to the sky. You can gently start to straighten the legs, but as soon as you feel your pelvis tilt back, release back into it. There’s the option to catch hold of opposite elbows using the weight to draw you down, maybe sway side to side. Hold for 30 seconds minimum.

Twists

Twists are great for easing tension in the lower back and abdominals. They can be done both sitting at a desk or lying down.

Sitting – sit up straight, removing the curve from your spine. Twist to the right, bringing your left hand to your left knee, and right hand just behind your right hip. Gently pull yourself round to the right with the left hand, whilst counteracting the pull with the right thigh drawing to the right. Try to keep the shoulders drawing down the back. Repeat on the left. Hold each side 30 seconds minimum.

Lying – lying flat on the floor, draw both knees into the chest. Taking the arms out to the side, draw the knees over to the left. Try to keep both shoulders grounded. Optional: put a cushion underneath your knees to ease the twist. Repeat on the right. Hold each side 30 seconds minimum.

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Child’s pose

This traditional yoga pose works the glutes, hamstrings and stretches all up the spine, neck and shoulders.

Start kneeling, with your bum on your heels. Gently walk your hands forwards until your forehead reaches the ground, allow your tummy to rest on your thighs. Keep your arms extended in front of you, and breathe.

Pelvic tilt

Bringing gentle mobility to the lower spine can release built up tension. Again, pelvic tilts can be done both sitting and lying down, so perfect for your desk or your bedroom floor.

Sitting – Sitting up tall, gently rock your pelvis back and forward. When your pelvis tilts forwards you’ll feel an arch coming into the spine, when you tilt it back, a rounding out through the back. Try to keep your abdominals engaged so support the spine. Repeat 10 times. 

Lying – Lying down, bend the knees bringing them to the sky, feet firmly planted on the floor hip width apart. Make sure you can graze your heels with your fingertips, though if the knees are hurting bring your feet further away from your bum. Engage your abs, gently tuck the pelvis, drawing the tailbone under, and then release. Repeat 10 times

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