Morning Back Stretches — Easy Moves to Start the Day Feeling Great

Morning back stretches can help prepare you for the day. If you sleep in a curled-up position, you may notice a bit of compression in your spine when you first wake up. The exercises that follow may help you get your day going with more flexibility, and less pain, in your back. They are easy to do while you are still in bed, and no equipment is required.


Knees to Chest Stretch

Knees to chest stretch

PhotoAlto / Frederic Cirou / Alto Agency RF Collections / Getty Images

A knees to chest stretch is a good way to start. Here's how:

  1. Lying on your back, bend one knee and bring it up towards your chest.
  2. Repeat this action with the other leg.
  3. Grasp your lower legs just below the knees and pull them further in towards your chest.
  4. Hold this position for five to 15 seconds and then release. You should feel the stretch in your low back.

You might follow this up with an opposite movement that targets the mid-back:

  1. Keeping the grasp just below your knees, press your knees, into your hands, away from the front of your body.
  2. Allow this pressure to take your head, shoulders, and upper back off the floor or bed you are on, and into a stretch. Keep your shoulders down.
  3. Hold for five to 15 seconds and relax back into the start position.

Prone Position

Stomach lying can help to eliminate morning back stiffness.
(c) Anne Asher 2007

One way to circumvent morning back pain may be to spend a few moments lying on your stomach. This is called the prone position:

  1. Place a flat pillow or folded towel lengthwise under your trunk; this positioning should allow your head and neck to relax down toward the bed. You might turn your head to one side, if that's comfortable. Place your arms where they are most comfortable, as well.
  2. To support the low back in this position, and engage the abdominal muscles, take the bottom of the back of your pelvis towards the back of the thighs. This will likely have the effect of picking up the pelvis just a bit in front, which generally ignites the core muscles.
  3. Stay in this position for up to a minute.

Lengthen Your Spine

Decompress your spine first thing in the morning by lengthening and stretching your back.
(c) Anne Asher 2007

Follow the previous position up with a slightly more active variation. Because you no longer have the pillow under your trunk to help support the position, you'll need to add more "oomph" to the effort.

Do so by contracting the muscles at the sides of your hips, as well. These muscles, known as the hip abductors, provide stabilization and support to the pelvis, which in turn, may help support your spine. Here's how to do it:

  1. Position a pillow so that it is crosswise under your forehead. Alternatively, don't use the pillow at all, instead resting your forehead on the mattress.
  2. Bring your arms down by your side and straighten the elbows, but don't lock them.
  3. Continue picking up the front of the pelvis, which activates the abdominals.
  4. Elongate your spine while you're in the prone position.
  5. Hold the position for about 30 seconds and then relax.

Back Extension

This back extension movement can be done gently to wake the spine up from a night of compression.
(c) Anne Asher 2007

Here's an early morning back exercise—taken from the yoga Cobra Pose—that may help improve symptoms related to disc problems.

This gentle back extension exercise also lengthens the spine and may help counter an excessive curvature in the upper back known as kyphosis.

Back extension may need to be avoided if you have facet joint problems, spondylolysis, spinal arthritis or spinal stenosis. This is because the position you'll be in may irritate already compromised areas. If you're unsure as to whether it's right for you given your condition, ask your doctor or physical therapist before proceeding.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Lie on your stomach, and place your forearms on the bed. Keep your elbows bent and directly under your shoulders. Relax your shoulders as best you can.
  2. Press up a short way. Be sure to keep the movement in a pain-free zone; in other words, don't go so far up as to feel a "kink" in your low back. Your abs should remain engaged throughout.
  3. Stay up for a few seconds and then gently bring yourself down and rest. Repeat up to three times.

Spine Stretch

Back and arm extension can help decompress the spine after a night's sleep.
(c) Anne Asher 2007

This next spine stretch involves your arms:

  1. Turn over onto your back.
  2. Move your arms out until they make a "V" shape.
  3. Reach with your arms and feel the stretch in your upper back. Relax.

You might consider placing a small pillow or rolled towel under your low back for support. If your shoulder or arm muscles are tight, or if your shoulder range of motion is limited, you can pillow those areas up, as well. Just be sure to keep the resulting position comfortable.

You can also modify the position by placing big pillows under your knees. This may help keep your knees and hips supported in a flexed position.

If you'd like to try this upper back stretch during the day, another variation is to lie on the floor, bend your knees, and place your legs on an ottoman or chair for support. Then have at it!

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Article 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. 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). doi:10.3390/healthcare4020022

  2. Yoo WG. Effect of thoracic stretching, thoracic extension exercise and exercises for cervical and scapular posture on thoracic kyphosis angle and upper thoracic pain. J Phys Ther Sci. 2013;25(11):1509-10. doi:10.1589/jpts.25.1509

Additional Reading
  • Source: Hage, M. (2005). The Back Pain Book. Atlanta, Ga. Peachtree Publishers.

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