The Best Lower Back Stretches to Try ASAP

Low back pain is no joke — but with the help of these gentle stretches, you may be able to get some relief.

Woman Doing Seated Spinal Twist
Photo: Getty Images

If you've ever experienced lower back pain, you know it's majorly uncomfortable. Suddenly, you realize just how much you rely on your back muscles in your regular, day-to-day activities — such as getting out of bed, stepping into your car, and simply sitting at your desk without developing dowager's hump.

About four out of five people experience low back pain at some point in their lives, according to the Cleveland Clinic. That high occurrence is because low back pain can come from any number of causes that affect a multitude of people, such as genetics, injury, occupation, or lifestyle. "The truth is, everything can intertwine since 'low back pain' is such a general and vague term. It can be an accumulation of repetitive strains or minor injuries," Evie Vlahakis, a certified physical therapist based in New York City, previously told Shape.

But while low back pain might be a common (and uncomfortable) issue, there are also plenty of ways to ease your pain. One such method: lower back stretches. Here, pain management specialists offer more insight into what causes low back pain and their advice on the best lower back stretches for pain relief.

What Causes Lower Back Pain?

Quick anatomy refresher: Your lumbar spine (aka lower back) is made up of five vertebrae, called L1 through L5. Vertebrae, in case you're not familiar, are small bones that form your spine. Lower back pain can be related to an issue with these vertebrae or the muscles surrounding them, says Medhat Mikhael, M.D., pain management specialist for the Spine Health Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.

While lower back pain can stem from injury or arthritis, one of the most common causes of low back pain in today's WFH world is being sedentary (especially if you have bad posture), says Winnie Yu, P.T., D.P.T., C.P.T., physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York. "I always tell my patients, no position is a bad position, but excessive time spent in any position can contribute to dysfunctional biomechanics when the body fatigues," explains Yu.

"When you spend excessive time in the sitting position, muscles at the front of your hips (such as hip flexors or quadriceps) can become tight from constantly being in a shortened position and lead to alterations in your resting pelvic position." In addition, sitting all day "puts more pressure on disks and vertebrae than standing or walking," as Jeffrey Katz, M.D., professor of medicine and orthopedic surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, previously told Shape.

Low back pain can also come from working out. "If you are performing an exercise without adequate core activation, you may end up compensating [with your] lower back muscles, leading to pain or injuries in the area," says Yu. "One of the first things I educate my patients on is the importance of pelvic and spinal positioning while exercising. Far too often, my patients will come in without realizing how a simple pelvic tilt and cueing for core activation can change the entire sensation of their lower back during exercise." To achieve that core activation, a safe exercise routine should regularly include core and hip strengthening.

Benefits of Lower Back Stretches

In general, acute lower back pain (that is, short-term pain that comes on suddenly) can be treated with heat or ice, over-the-counter medications, and topical pain relief, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

Gentle stretching can be used alongside these home remedies, says Dr. Mikhael. "[Stretching] relaxes and overcomes the muscle tightness in the back, which can be a major contributing factor for back pain," he explains.

The extension from stretching helps correct the tension and length of your lumbopelvic area (or the lower back to pelvic region), which is another benefit of low back stretches. Here's a physiology refresher:Your muscles have sensors in them (called Golgi tendon organs) that send information back to your brain and spinal cord about the amount of tension or stretch in each muscle group. Using that info, your brain and spinal cord adjust this tension so that you can maintain your posture (think: maintaining tension in your spinal muscles while sitting upright but relaxing your knee extensors).

"Consequently, [stretching] helps your low back muscles to heal, regenerate, and recharge quickly" after workouts or injury, adds Kiran F. Rajneesh M.D., director of the neurological pain division at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "[Having] the correct amount of tension helps muscles produce quick, agile, complex movements since they are keyed ahead of time, awaiting the complex commands." In that sense, you could think of stretching as similar to how a professional musician tunes their instrument before performing a complicated piece.

Finally, lower back stretches are crucial to providing a balance between the front and back of your body. "Ideally, you want a balanced relationship between the flexibility and strength of the muscles that make up the front and back of the hip and abdomen," says Yu. "Stretching can help to reduce abnormal soft tissue restrictions that would otherwise cause the pelvis to be biased into an excessive anterior pelvic tilted position."

The Best Lower Back Stretches for Pain Relief

While your instinct may be to grab the heating pad and retreat to the couch, some gentle stretching can help relieve low back pain by addressing muscle tightness, easing pressure over your nerve roots, and improving the alignment of your spine, says Dr. Mikhael.

Stretching won't be beneficial in every situation of lower back pain, however, and you may need to check with your doctor to see if stretching will help you. "If you have a history of autoimmune conditions, prior back surgery, or associated bowel or bladder dysfunction with lower back pain, please consult your primary care physician or spine specialist before undertaking stretching at home," says Dr. Rajneesh. "We would want to rule out large movement and instability of some of the lower back vertebral bones with simple imaging before authorizing stretching."

Once you're cleared by your doctor, try these five lower back stretches for gentle relief, as demonstrated by Yu. Aim to do each exercise for at least 30 seconds, focusing on your inhale and exhale to lengthen and deepen the stretch.


A. Lay flat on back with legs straight. Pull right knee toward chest until you feel a stretch in lower back, while keeping left knee straight or comfortably bent at the knee.

B. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Piriformis Stretch

A. Lay flat on back with knees knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Pull right knee up to chest and hold with left hand.

B. Gently pull right knee toward left side. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Seated Spinal Twist

A. Sit on the floor with both legs straight in front of you. Place left foot flat on the ground on the outside of right knee; left knee will be bent at 90-degrees.

B. Bring right arm up and wrap it around left leg so that right elbow is on the outside of left leg.

C. Turn chest and head to the left. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.

Pelvic Tilt

A. Lay on the floor with both knees bent and core engaged; lower back should press into the ground.

B. Contract lower abdominals and glutes, tucking butt under and tilting pelvis up. Imagine a glass of water on your pelvic bone; during this tuck, the glass should spill onto your belly.

C. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds and release. Repeat 10 times.


A. Kneel on all fours with hands shoulder-width apart and knees below hips. Inhale and look up while arching lower back with pelvis tilted up and shoulders rolling away from ears for cow.

B. Exhale and tuck pelvis down, pressing the floor away with hands and knees to round back like a cat.

C. Move slowly between both positions for at least five breath cycles.

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