Simple Yet Effective Lower Back Stretches

Daily activities that require prolonged sitting or heavy lifting can put excess strain on your back. Over time, this can increase the risk of injury and the development of chronic back pain. Regularly stretching your back can help alleviate this pain and improve the overall mobility of your spine.



Rearview shot of an unrecognizable and athletic young woman holding her lower back in pain while at the gym - stock photo

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The recommended exercises focus on stretching and extending the lower spine as well as the adjacent hip flexor muscles. They only take around 10 minutes to do and can be performed before or after your workday. 

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 and don't make a bad condition worse.


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 hyperextension. 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, extending 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 seems 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 extending your lower back into flexion while activating the vertebrae of your upper spine. It is also the first half of a yoga sequence called the cat and cow pose.

To do the cat stretch:

  1. Get on the floor on your hands and knees.
  2. Place your hands directly under her shoulders.
  3. While exhaling, push your back up towards 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 the 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

If desired, you can link the cat pose to the cow pose. Instead of returning the start position of cat stretch (Step 6), transition directly into the cow stretch as follows:

  1. As you descend from 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 pelvis toward the ceiling while dropping your navel toward the ground.
  3. Hold for five seconds.
  4. Transition back into the cat position as you exhale.
  5. Repeat nine more times.

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


The Pelvic Tilt

woman performing Pelvic tilt
Ben Goldstein

The pelvic tilt uses your abdominal and hip muscles to gently flex your lumbar spine. 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 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 taut.
  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 to your daily routine with other lower back stretches from the McKenzie Method.

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  1. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Low Back Pain Fact Sheet.