When you’re dealing with the aches and, oftentimes, debilitating soreness of lower-back pain, there’s a good chance all you want to do is stay in bed. But research shows that doing a combination of strength and aerobic exercises and stretching two to three times a week can help prevent and ease lower-back pain.
The nice thing about gentle stretching is that it’s feasible to do when you’re in pain—and often provides the fastest relief, says Jamie Costello, fitness director at the Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa, who recommends these five stretches for the next time back pain strikes.
1. Child’s Pose
This common yoga pose gently stretches the muscles of the low back, which are likely contracted if you’re in pain.
How to do child’s pose: Begin in tabletop position on your hands and knees, with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Extend your arms out in front of you, placing your palms flat on the floor. Slowly sit your hips back toward your heels, dropping your head and chest downward as your arms extend further and reach for the wall in front of you. If this stretch is too much, place a pillow under your belly to prop yourself up a bit and lessen the stretch of the low-back muscles. Hold this pose for 20 to 30 seconds or even longer.
2. Cat/Cow Stretch
This dynamic movement moves the low-back muscles in two directions and builds on Child’s Pose to help lengthen contracted muscles and soothe soreness.
How to a cat/cow stretch: Begin in tabletop position on your hands and knees, with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Your spine should be parallel to the ground in this position. Then, round your back, stretching your mid-back between your shoulder blades—similar to how a cat stretches by rounding its back. Hold for five seconds, then relax and let your stomach fall downward as you gently arch your low back and hold here for another five seconds. Repeat these movements for 30 seconds or longer.
3. Supine Twist
This stretch not only helps to stretch your lower back but also your glutes, which can tighten when you’re experiencing low back pain, ultimately causing more pain.
How to do a supine twist: Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Extend your arms out to the side in a “T” position. Keep your shoulders on the ground as you gently roll both knees to one side. Stay here 20 to 30 seconds, then return your knees to the center and repeat on the other side. If the stretch is too much for you, place a pillow or stack of blankets under your knees when you twist to each side.
4. Knee-to-Chest Stretch
Similar to the other stretches on this list, this pose lengthens contracted low back muscles.
How to do knee-to-chest stretch: Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bring your hands to rest either behind your knees or right below your kneecaps. Slowly bring both knees toward your chest, using your hands to gently pull your knees. Hold here 20 to 30 seconds, and try rocking your hips side to side and up and down to help massage your low back, then return to starting position.
5. The Pelvic Tilt
When you’re suffering from lower-back pain, you might feel as if your entire pelvic area is immovable. This stretch can help you start to bring some movement back to this area gently.
How to do a pelvic tilt: Begin by lying on a yoga mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Try to relax your low back, keeping it in a neutral position (which means you should feel a slight curve in your low back if you place the top of your hand under your back). Activate your core muscles and then flatten your low back against the floor by slightly tilting your pelvis upward. Repeat 12 to 15 times.
6. Supine Figure 4 Stretch
This classic yoga pose helps open up the hips as much as it is good for massaging your low back. “This pose stretches the outer glutes, as well as your piriformis, both of which can contribute to a tight lower back,” says Hilary Wright, Y7 instructor and director of continuing education.
How to do a supine figure 4 stretch: Lie on your back on a yoga mat with both knees bent and feet planted on the floor. Lift your right leg, flex your right foot and cross your right ankle over your left thigh. If this is enough stay here, or draw your left knee in and hold behind your left thigh to increase the intensity. Hold for 10 to 15 breaths and then switch to the other side.
7. Cow-Face Pose (Gomukhasana)
This pose stretches your outer glutes, which can cause low back pain they they’re tight, says Wright.
How to do cow-face pose: From a seated position, bring your left heel toward your right glute, with your left knee pointing straight in front of you. Now bring your right leg on top of your left, stacking your knees together so they are both facing straight ahead. It’s ok if they don’t stack directly on top of one another. Your feet should be on either side of you, toes pointing behind you. Keep your spine long by sitting up tall, or add a slight forward bend to increase intensity.