10 lower back stretches for pain relief and posture

Find out how implementing lower back stretches into your daily routine can improve your posture and reduce lower back pain.

If you don’t have lower back pain now, you probably will at some point. A whopping four out of five people battle the nagging ache, according to the American Chiropractic Association. And while conditions such as osteoarthritis—and injuries like a strained ligament—can cause back pain, poor posture is the most common culprit.

“When the natural curve of the spine is out of alignment, weight and gravity are improperly channeled through the spine, hips, and legs,” says Jonathan Ericson, a certified personal trainer and director of sports science at the NY Sports Science Lab. “That causes tension and pain.”

Correcting your alignment takes a two-pronged approach: Strengthening exercises, like rows, to boost your back and shoulders’ ability to support your body; and stretches to help restore muscles to their optimal lengths.

Ready for relief? Keep reading to discover the best stretches for lower back pain—so you can stand taller and feel better.

How to stretch your lower back

Moves that boost flexibility in your spine will provide some lower-back pain relief, but stretching the muscles that support your pelvis (such as the hip flexors and hamstrings, or the muscles that run down the back of your thighs) is also key. “An aligned pelvis is vital to a well-functioning back,” says Todd Sinett, DC, a chiropractor and the author of 3 Weeks to a Better Back. Another thing: Keep in mind that stretching once a week won’t measurably improve your flexibility or decrease your lower back pain. For the best results, try to make stretching a part of your regular routine.

10 best lower back stretches

Do two or three of these stretches every day, performing one to three rounds of each.

1: Kneeling hip flexor stretch

Long periods of sitting shorten your hip flexors (the muscles that originate at your lower back and pelvis and connect to your thigh bone), tilting your pelvis forward and increasing the arch of your lower back. Stretching the hip flexors can help restore your lower back to it’s natural curve.

How to do it:

  • Kneel with your right knee on a pillow or mat and your left foot on the floor in front of it, left thigh parallel to the floor.
  • Squeeze your right butt muscles as you push your hips forward slightly until you feel a stretch in the front of your right hip.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.

To increase the stretch: Raise your right arm (or the arm on the same side of the hip you’re stretching) overhead as you lean to the opposite direction.

2. Hamstring rope stretch

Together with the hip flexors, tight hamstrings can push your pelvis forward, affecting your posture and contributing to lower-back pain. This move helps combat the problem.

How to do it:

  • Lie on your back with knees bent, left foot on the floor and right foot raised. Loop the middle of a rope, towel, or belt around the arch of your right foot and hold the two ends with your hands.
  • Extend your right leg as you gently pull the rope toward you (the sole of your right foot should point toward the ceiling) until you feel a stretch in the back of your right thigh. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.

To make it easier: Don’t pull your extended leg up as high.

3: Cat cow

This yoga pose stretches the front and back of the torso, engaging all of the muscles that support the spine, Ericson explains. Moving vertebrae by vertebrae improves your ability to consciously control your spinal alignment—a major win when you’re trying to improve your posture.

How to do it:

  • Get on all fours with your wrists aligned under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  • Inhale and then slowly exhale as you round your back, raising your hips, spine, and neck toward the ceiling.
  • Slowly inhale as you arch your back, dropping your abdominals toward the floor and lifting the top of your head and tip of your tailbone toward the ceiling.
  • Repeat, moving between the two positions with each inhale and exhale. Continue for 30 to 60 seconds.

4: Knees to chest stretch

The sacroiliac joint, where the spine and pelvis meet, is a common site of back pain—and this stretch targets it.

How to do it:

  • Lie faceup with your knees bent. Grasp the back of your thighs with your hands.
  • Gently pull your knees toward your chest until you feel a stretch in your lower back.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

5: Lying trunk rotation

“This exercise loosens up the lower back muscles and joints, while engaging the core,” Ericson says. Try doing it first thing in the morning to help reduce stiffness that developed overnight.

How to do it:

  • Lie faceup with your knees bent 90 degrees and shins parallel to the floor. Extend your arms straight out to your sides in a T, palms facing the ceiling.
  • Inhale, then exhale as you slowly lower your knees to the floor on your left while keeping your shoulders on the floor.
  • Inhale as you slowly raise your knees back to the starting position; and then exhale as you lower your knees toward the floor on your right.
  • Continue, moving your legs from side to side on every exhale, for 30 to 60 seconds.

6: Child’s pose

Stress is linked to lower back pain, so calming down with a restorative yoga pose can provide relief, Sinett says. Bonus: This pose also stretches your entire back.

How to do it:

  • Get on all fours with your knees slightly wider than your hips.
  • Push your hips back, and lower your butt toward the floor between your feet as you reach your arms out in front of you until you feel a stretch in your back. Hold for 30 seconds.

7: Piriformis stretch

Reduce painful pressure on your sciatic nerve (which runs from your lower back down each leg) with this stretch.

How to do it:

  • Lie face up with knees bent and left foot on the floor. Cross right ankle over left thigh, just above the knee.
  • Grasp your left thigh with your left hand and pull your legs toward your chest as you push your right leg away from you with your right hand.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.

8: Sphinx

If you spend hours hunched over a computer, this is a must-do move. Sphinx helps reverse the slump by stretching the muscles in the chest, shoulders, and back, as well as the abdominals and hips.

How to do it:

  • Lie facedown with your legs extended behind you. Align your elbows under your shoulders and place your forearms and palms on the floor in front of them.
  • Press down through your forearms, and push your hips into the floor, as you raise your chest until you feel a stretch in your lower back.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

9: Pigeon pose

This yoga pose stretches the hips, thighs, groin, and lower back.

How to do it:

  • Get on all fours with your wrists aligned under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  • Bring your right knee forward and place it on the floor just behind and slightly to the right of your right wrist. Your right shin should be nearly perpendicular to your hips with your right heel pointing toward your left hip.
  • Extend your left leg behind you with the top of your foot on the floor. Keep your hips even and walk your hands forward until you feel a stretch in both legs.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.

To increase the challenge: Walk your hands farther forward and lower your chest toward the floor.

10: Seated lateral trunk stretch

An easy stretch to do at your desk, this move focuses on the muscles that run along the sides of your spine as well as your obliques, the muscles that run down the sides of your abdominals and connect to your pelvis.

How to do it:

  • Sit in a chair with your shoulders aligned over your hips.
  • Extend your right arm overhead with your palm facing left and extend your left arm at your side.
  • Bend to the left from your waist as you reach your right arm to the left.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.

Tips for stretching your lower back

Here’s how to safely and effectively boost your flexibility:

1. Breathe:

Relaxing will help you get a better stretch, and breathing can help you do it. Take deep breaths as you hold a position, filling your belly with air as you inhale and pushing it all out as you exhale.

2. Hold, don’t bounce:

Hold stretches for at least 30 seconds. “A shorter duration has minimal effect on improving muscle length,” says Helen Reich, a physical therapist and clinical director at Professional Physical Therapy’s Columbus Circle location in New York City. And don’t bounce—that can decrease the effectiveness of a stretch and even injure a muscle.

3. Be gentle:

“Stretching shouldn’t be painful,” Reich says, and pushing past discomfort can cause an injury.

The upshot: What are the best lower back stretches?

Stretching can help ease tension in tight, stiff muscles, and improve posture and pelvic alignment, Reich says. And while the stretches here are some of the best, it’s important to figure out the top choices for you. Choose moves that feel comfortable and address the issues that are causing your lower back pain. Take note of how you feel during and after stretching, and repeat the stretches that worked best for you.

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K. Aleisha Fetters, MS, CSCS, is a strength coach and fitness writer who contributes to publications including TIME, US News & World Report, SELF, and Women’s Health. She is also the author of Fitness Hacks for Over 50 and Give Yourself MORE: A Science-Backed, Six-Part Plan for Women to Hit Their Weight-Loss Goals by Defying Diet Culture.