Back Stretching Exercises

Back stretching and mobility exercises for an essential part of treating and preventing low back pain.

Below we explain four simple back stretching exercises which can be used as part of a back rehab program or as part of a warm up.

Lumbar rotation and the cat stretch aim to mobilize the vertebra in the spine whilst the side stretch and low back stretch are more suitable for gently stretching the muscles in the back.

Low back stretch

Low back stretchLow back or lumbar back stretch is a popular exercise for relieving low back pain. Simply lie on the floor on your back and bring the knees up to the chest pulling them in tight with the arms. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds and release.

A more advanced version is to pull the knees in and hold for 30 seconds, then gently rock in closer 10 times before holding for another 30 seconds. Repeat this two or three times without releasing the stretch for maximum effect. Muscles stretched in the back are the lower erector Spinae muscles and gluteus maximus.

Lumbar rotation stretch

Lumbar spine rotationThis exercise mobilizes the lumbar spine. A common contributor to low back pain is restricted mobility in one or more lumbar vertebra and performing this exercise regularly on both sides can help relieve back pain.

Lay flat on the back and bring one knee up towards the chest. Then take it across the body and allow the weight of the leg to rotate the lumber spine.

The hand can be used to increase the stretch if necessary. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds and repeat 2 or 3 times on each side. Aim to ensure that the mobility on each side is the same.

Side stretch

Side stretchThis exercise stretches the muscles at the side of the back and some of the core muscles responsible for low back stability. To perform the stretch stand up and lean over to one side feeling a stretch in the opposite side. To increase the stretch the arm can reach up and over the head. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds before changing sides. Repeat the exercise 2 to 3 times each side. Try to ensure both sides are equally flexible.

The muscles stretched with this exercise are the quadratus lumborum, internal obliques and the external obliques.

Cat stretch

Cat stretchThe cat stretch mobilizes the spine forwards and backwards and is so named because it is often done by cats. The athlete arches the back towards the ceiling when on all fours with the head and shoulders pointing down towards the floor.

Cat stretch slumpHold for 10 seconds or so then reverse the position into a slump stretch where the head and shoulders are lifted up towards the ceiling arching the back the opposite way. Again, hold for 10 seconds or so and repeat the entire stretch 3 or 4 times as required.

Latissimus dorsi stretch

Lat stretchThere are a couple of ways of stretching the lat muscles. One way is to simply reach up in a standing position. A stretch should be felt in the upper back at the sides. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds as normal.

Another method is to kneel down and reach forward as far as possible. Hold the stretch for as long as required. This is a very relaxing stretch used in many Yoga routines.

Lat stretch 2Another way of getting a much deeper stretch in the latissimus dorsi muscles is to hold onto a door frame or other fixed handle and lean backwards from the hips aiming to relax and stretch the lat muscles and back of the shoulder.