Simple Yet Effective Lower Back Stretches

A 10-Minute Routine to Ease Tightness and Pain

Prolonged sitting or heavy lifting can put a good deal of pressure on the spine, threatening the overall health and pliability of your spinal discs. Sitting for long periods can also inhibit proper blood flow to the back muscles and lead to muscle stiffness, potentially causing feelings of tightness and pain.

In addition, strenuous movements may cause soreness, stiffness, or strain in the lower back area, which can cause pain and discomfort.

Left unaddressed, repeated stresses such as these may increase the risk of developing chronic issues such as spinal compression, sciatica, and herniated discs. Thankfully, there are lower back stretches that you can do to keep your spine and muscles mobile and functioning properly and alleviate pain and tightness.

The recommended exercises found here focus on stretching and extending the lower spine as well as the adjacent hip flexor muscles. They only take around 10 minutes to do.

Before starting these or any other exercises, check with your healthcare provider or physical therapist to ensure they are safe for you as an individual. For instance, performing back stretches may not be suitable for you if you recently suffered an acute back injury.


Prone Press-Up

Photo of a woman performing the upward dog yoga position.

David Lees / Getty Images

The prone press-up, or lumbar extension, is a great way to stretch your back without the risk of overextending the spine. The exercise aims to restore the normal forward curvature of the lumbar spine, called lordosis.

The prone press-up is sometimes referred to as the Cobra pose or Seal pose in yoga.

To do the prone press-up:

  1. Lie on your stomach.
  2. Prop yourself on your elbows, extend your back, and place your palms flat on the floor.
  3. As you inhale, start straightening your elbows, further extending your back. Try to keep your hip bone from lifting off the floor.
  4. Continue straightening your elbows until you feel a gentle stretch. Do not lock your elbows or push back farther than is comfortable.
  5. Hold for three to five seconds.
  6. Slowly return to the starting position as you exhale. Do not drop to the floor.
  7. Repeat nine more times.

Cat Stretch

woman performing Cat stretch

iStockimage / Getty Images

The cat stretch is an effective yet gentle means of flexing your spine. It is also the first half of a yoga sequence called the Cat-Cow pose (shown below), which ends in extending your spine.

These stretches can increase the mobility of your spine and encourage blood flow to the back, nourishing the spine and back muscles and potentially decreasing stiffness.

To do the cat stretch:

  1. Get on the floor on your hands and knees.
  2. Place your hands directly under your shoulders.
  3. While exhaling, push your back up toward the ceiling, rolling your back into an upward arch (like a cat).
  4. Continue arching until you feel a gentle stretch in your upper back and between your shoulder blades.
  5. Hold for five seconds.
  6. Return to the starting position as you exhale.
  7. Repeat nine more times.

Cat-Cow Stretch

woman performing Cow stretch

iStockimage / Getty Images

This stretch builds on the cat stretch mentioned above.

Instead of returning the start position of cat stretch, transition directly into the cow stretch as follows:

  1. As you descend from the cat stretch, continue lowering your back as you inhale until it is in a downward arch position (like a slope-backed cow).
  2. You can further extend the stretch by lifting your pelvis toward the ceiling while dropping your navel toward the ground.
  3. Hold for five seconds.
  4. Transition your back into the cat position as you exhale.
  5. Repeat nine more times.

Always be careful not to hyperextend your spine. Make sure the movements are slow and controlled. Do not rush.


The Pelvic Tilt

Ben Goldstein

The pelvic tilt uses your abdominal and hip muscles to flex your lumbar spine gently. It is often used as the foundational exercise in a core strengthening program.

To do the pelvic tilt:

  1. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. As you exhale, press the small of your back against the floor.
  3. Hold for 15 seconds, keeping the pelvis and lower back muscles stretched.
  4. Return to the starting position as you inhale.
  5. Repeat nine more times.

Lumbar stretching exercises, combined with postural correction and regular physical activity, can help keep your back moving and feeling well. As you begin to master these exercises, you can add them to your daily routine with other lower back stretches from the McKenzie Method.

What Is the McKenzie Method?

The McKenzie Method is a type of physical therapy typically focused on the assessment and self-treatment of low back pain through specific exercises. Your PT may be certified in this type of therapy and may recommend it to you if you are experiencing centralization, a phenomenon where pain shifts from your arms and legs to places close to your spine when the spine is put in certain positions.


Prolonged sitting, heavy lifting, and strenuous activities can lead to lower back pain, strain, and tightness. Repeatedly causing such stress to the back increases the risk of developing chronic conditions like sciatica and spinal compression.

Performing lower back stretches can keep the spine and muscles healthy and mobile and alleviate pain and tightness.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kett AR, Milani TL, Sichting F. Sitting for too long, moving too little: regular muscle contractions can reduce muscle stiffness during prolonged periods of chair-sittingFront Sports Act Living. 2021;3:760533. doi:10.3389/fspor.2021.760533

  2. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Low back pain fact sheet.

  3. U.S National Library of Medicine Efficacy comparison of the exercises based on the lumbar extension and flexion in chronic low back pain.

  4. Gordon R, Bloxham S. A systematic review of the effects of exercise and physical activity on non-specific chronic low back pain. Healthcare (Basel). 2016;4(2):22. doi:10.3390/healthcare4020022

  5. U.S. Library of Medicine Effectiveness of cat-cow yoga in managing low back pain.

  6. U.S. Library of Medicine Effects of pelvic tilt exercises with and without facet joint manipulation in patients with Maigne's syndrome.

  7. Namnaqani FI, Mashabi AS, Yaseen KM, Alshehri MA. The effectiveness of McKenzie Method compared to manual therapy for treating chronic low back pain: a systematic reviewJ Musculoskelet Neuronal Interact. 2019;19(4):492-499.

By Laura Inverarity, DO
 Laura Inverarity, PT, DO, is a current board-certified anesthesiologist and former physical therapist.