A staggering number of people worldwide suffer from back pain. With the total surpassing 540 million, it's clear that we need strategies to alleviate this problem in our population. Keeping the spine healthy and flexible is essential for pain prevention. Let's look at some of the best stretches you can do at home to ease back pain.
Which exercises are best for back pain?
Before choosing the correct stretches for you, you must identify where you are experiencing painful sensations in your back. Do you feel it in your lower back? Or are you noticing a burning sensation between your shoulder blades?
As with any new type of exercise, it's recommended that you start gently. If you experience any pain, back out of the posture slowly, and don't push yourself into uncomfortable positions. The idea is to gently stretch out the muscles, not to do further damage.
The following exercises can be performed twice a day. However, if you feel sore or stiff, give yourself time to rest. The body must have time to adjust to the new movements.
Let's take a look at some back pain stretches that target the area you feel it the most:
Best stretches for lower back pain
This traditional yoga pose stretches your glutes, thighs, and the muscles you use to extend the spine.
The pose is relaxing and calming to the nervous system. It helps relieve pain and tension along the entire spine. Done regularly, it helps loosen tight muscles in the neck and back as well as increase flexibility.
To perform the child's pose, follow these steps:
- Start on all fours, sink your hips back, and rest them on your heels.
- Fold forward, hinging from the hip, and slowly walk your hands out in front of you.
- Rest your tummy on your thighs.
- Keep your arms extended, or place them alongside your body with your palms up.
- Breathe deeply and steadily. Send the breath to the places where you can feel tightness, and relax any tension.
- Stay in this stretch for one or two minutes.
Precautions. It can be hard to do this exercise if you have knee issues or tight back muscles. In this case, start this exercise on all fours, slowly tilt your pelvis backward, and slowly return to a neutral position.
The knee-to-chest exercise increases bending in the lower spine and lets the spaces between your spinal discs relax, which stabilizes your lower back. It also helps release tension in your hips and thighs. This exercise is especially beneficial if your lower back has too much curve (hyperlordotic curve) because it makes your pelvis tilt backward, reducing the excessive curve in your lower spine.
To perform the knee-to-chest stretch, follow these steps:
- Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
- Keep the right knee bent or extend it straight out on the floor.
- Bring your left knee into your chest, hugging behind the thigh or over the top of your shin.
- Focus on keeping your spine straight on the floor and not raising the hips.
- Take long, slow breaths, focusing on relaxing a little deeper with every exhale.
- Hold the posture for up to 1 minute.
- Switch over to the other leg.
In the original version, the extended leg should hang off the table; however, this modified version is safer and lowers the risk of improper performance during the exercise.
Precautions. If you have any sharp pain in your back during this exercise, slowly return to the starting position and skip this for a while. Consult with your physiotherapist for an individual approach.
Seated spinal twist
Twisting is a great way to stretch your hips, glutes, and back. It enhances spinal mobility and activates your internal organs. This movement not only stretches the glutes and deeper pelvis muscles but also mobilizes the sciatic nerve, easing pain in the glutes and back by improving the spread of nerve impulses.
To perform a seated spinal twist, follow these steps:
- Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you.
- Bend your left knee and cross your left foot over to the outside of your right thigh.
- Place your arm outside your left thigh, extended or bent at the elbow.
- Sit tall and slowly twist to the left, starting at the base of your spine.
- Hold the posture for up to 1 minute.
- Repeat on the other side.
Regular practice of just a few minutes a day can provide significant relief, plus it's excellent for general spinal health.
Precautions. If you have any sharp pain in your back during this exercise, slowly return to the starting position and try it with a smaller rotation of your spine. If this does not work, consult with your physiotherapist to get a modified version of this exercise.
Best stretches for upper back pain
Shoulder blade stretch
This is a great stretch to deeply release the tight points between your shoulder blades. The exercise can stretch your trapezius, teres minor, and major muscles, which are overactive during prolonged sitting and desk work.
As the head moves forward, the neck flexors weaken, and the trapezius ends up carrying most of the load. It's important to mention that when stretching the muscles in your back, ensure to keep your neck elongated and maintain a chin-tucked position.
To perform a shoulder blade stretch, follow these steps:
- Swing your left arm under your right so that your outer right elbow rests on or beyond the left inner elbow.
- Take your left hand and interlace it around the right arm, forming a bind.
- Keeping your bind, try applying more pressure, moving your forearms further away or lifting your upper arms higher. These movements will give your shoulders the release they need.
- Hold the posture for up to 30 seconds, then repeat with the opposite arm on top.
Precautions. If you have decreased mobility in your shoulders and cannot perform this stretch, try to hug yourself and reach forward with your elbows; this is a simpler version. If it is still painful, consult with your physiotherapist to get a modified version of this exercise.
Palm to shoulder blade stretch
This upper back stretch targets the muscles in your shoulders and your lats. In other words, it helps relieve tension in those hard-to-reach areas.
The pose can relieve the brachial plexus nerves that come along from your neck to the arm. Because of the hunched position of your shoulders, the nerves become squeezed and always irritated, so this exercise can help alleviate the tightness and pain in your shoulders by opening them.
To perform a palm-to-shoulder blade stretch, follow these steps:
- Raise your right arm.
- Turn the palm to face behind you and bend your elbow so your palm rests on your upper back.
- Using your left hand, take hold of the right elbow and gently pull to the left.
- Your palm will slide down your back, and you should feel a stretch down the side body and between your shoulder blades.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Repeat on the other side.
Precautions. Try to pull your arm very gently. If you cannot do this, just keep the position without pulling to the opposite side.
Extended side stretch can help with intercostal, abdominal (especially obliques), and latissimus dorsi muscles. These muscles often tighten due to a hunched sitting position and reduced inhalation caused by being in that posture.
Prolonged sitting can lead to muscle fatigue, reduced nutrition for the intervertebral disks, and decreased blood flow to muscles. This stretching position aids in circulating fluids and providing nutrients to the intervertebral disks.
To perform an extended side stretch, follow these steps:
- Begin in a standing position and lift your arms above your head.
- Take the left hand around the right wrist and bend to the right.
- Use your right arm to gently pull down on the left, bringing your torso further to the right and increasing the stretch.
- Hold for 10–15 seconds.
- Repeat on the other side, aiming for 2–3 sets on each side.
Precautions. Some people may feel irritation on the opposite side during this exercise. If you feel it too, lower your arms and cross them on your chest before starting the side bend. If it is still uncomfortable, consult with your doctor.
Tip for stretching for back pain relief
Start your stretching routine with these fundamental guidelines to enhance effectiveness and safety:
- Always start slowly and gently.
- Pay attention to the sensations in your body as you move into each posture.
- Be mindful of your limits. Don't push your body to do something it's not ready to do.
- Notice your breath. You should be able to breathe freely and easily in your stretches. If your breath becomes ragged or shallow — you've gone too far.
- Try to do your stretches twice a day.
- As you become more flexible, increase the time you hold each stretch.
- If you feel sharp pains or stabbing sensations, back out of the stretch and speak to your doctor.
Benefits of stretching for back pain relief
As with any exercise form, to feel the benefits of stretching, you need to do it consistently and include it in your daily routine.
The provided back pain stretches can all be done at home. They are rather easy to do and don’t require additional massages or gym memberships. Keeping the stretches simple means they are accessible to everyone no matter where they are.
A systematic review with meta-analysis showed that to increase the range of motion, you need to perform stretching for up to 30 seconds. Another randomized clinical trial showed that stretching can help relieve pain and disability for people with chronic lower back pain.
Overall, addressing back pain through regular stretches offers a practical and accessible solution, particularly in a world dominated by desk jobs and sedentary lifestyles. Emphasising simplicity ensures that these stretches are within reach for everyone, regardless of their location.
7.5% of the global population suffers from lower back pain.
Sitting down at your desk and having a sedentary lifestyle is a key factor in the development of back pain.
Regular stretching can help ease back pain.
You can perform stretches for back pain from the comfort of your own home.
- The Good Body. Back Pain Statistics.
- Harvard Health Publishing. The Dangers of Sitting.
- BMJ Journals. Sedentary behavior and life expectancy in the USA: a cause-deleted life table analysis.
- National Library of Medicine. Stretching in the rehabilitation of low-back pain patients.