10 of the best stretching exercises for the lower back

As a nation we are facing an epidemic of lower back pain hence the need to take good care of our backs through appropriate lower back exercise and lower back stretches. The question is, however, what are the best lower back exercises and lower back stretches that we can do to maintain the health of our backs? To discuss this topic, we caught up with Study Active Senior Tutor Chris Walsh to get some ideas. Chris is a qualified Yoga instructor and L4 Low Back Pain Specialist with a particular interest in exercises for lower back pain. We asked Chris what his 10 best lower back exercises and lower back stretches are.

Before we hear from Chris, if you are suffering from back pain, please discuss this with your GP before starting an exercise programme and please refrain from any exercise that causes pain or discomfort. It is also recommended that for low back pain sufferers that they only undertake remedial exercise under the instruction of a qualified practitioner or as part of a GP Referral scheme.

Over to you Chris….

Best Stretching Exercises for the Lower Back

Firstly, as humans we’re still learning to walk upright, we’re the only creatures who can sit and stand with their head, neck and torso in a vertical axis - low back pain is common, you’re not alone.

Common causes are: Too much sitting, too much standing, lifting incorrectly, and poor posture (often caused through excess body fat pulling the lower spine forward causing compression).

Structural integrity is key to reducing Low Back Pain (LBP). Let’s look at some LBP Strengthening and Stretching i.e., releasing tension exercises:

  1. Leg raise - Lie on your tummy, arms by your side, bend your right leg, sole facing the sky and raise this leg keeping the pelvis on the floor. Repeat other side. Progression - both legs.
  1. Side plank raise - Lie on your side, forearm on the floor at 90 degrees to torso, knees on floor stacked. Knees, hips, shoulders and head in alignment; raise hips off floor, hold and lower slowly.
  1. Soles together Crunch - Lie on your back, soles of the feet raised and facing one another, Inhale, exhale as you reach your hands toward your feet, hold and lower slowly. Only shoulder blades roll off floor, eyes focus on a spot on the ceiling above your feet throughout the movement.
  1. Glute stretch - Lie on your back head resting on the mat. Draw your right leg into your chest bring both arms around to hug the leg. Left leg relaxes on floor. Try to keep sacrum on floor Hold for a few deep breaths. Repeat other side. Progression both legs.
  1. Reclining twist - lie on your back, knees bent, allow the knees to fall to the side. Keep both shoulders on the floor. Progression hook a leg over the other for a deeper stretch.
  1. Piriformis stretch - Lie on your back left leg bent, foot flat on floor. Cross your right ankle over your left knee. Use leg muscles to firmly but gently drive the right knee away from your torso. Progression - raise left foot off floor.
  1. Cat stretch - Kneeling, knees under hips, hands under shoulders. Inhale maintain a neutral spine, exhale and arch your back like a cat, tuck the tail bone under, draw the tummy in, hold and lower slowly to neutral. Repeat.
  1. Lunge - Lunges are an excellent strengthening exercise. In lunge position maintain front and rear knee joint at a right angle, torso upright. Stepping backward is often easier for most people though if able try to step to the side too, aiming hips behind foot and center of knee tracking middle toes in all lunge variations.
  1. Deep Squat - Stand feet hip width, toes forward, lower into the lowest position you can comfortably obtain. Lift the spine, breathe deeply and hold for a few breaths. If heels raise place support under them, if balance is compromised hold a solid structure for support. Gradually build up time in hold.
  1. Psoas stretch - Kneel on a mat, Right leg at right angle i.e., knee above ankle. Left leg also at right angle i.e., knee below hip. Lift and lengthen chest and head. Contract Left buttock, keep hips and shoulders facing forward. Hold and breathe deeply, Repeat
  1. An extra one as I know you’re enjoying this. Spiderman Walks AKA Best Exercise in the World - thoracic rotation / hip flexion and extension with core engagement all in one super move. From Plank position step right leg forward to outside of right hand. Left knee on floor is an option or keep leg extended.  Right elbow reaches toward Right instep on an inhale. Exhale and extend the right arm up toward the sky. Your eyes can follow the hand though if neck issues just look forward. Exhale as you return to start position. Repeat each side.

Thank you, Chris! So, we have seen here that there are many exercises for lower back pain including specific lower back pain exercises and lower back pain stretches. We have also touched on the importance of involving your GP from the start, possibly as part of a GP Referral scheme. Competence with such exercises for lower back pain is certainly something that a Personal Trainer should have in their locker to work with GP’s to help fight against the prevalence of LBP in the UK.

Editors notes - exercises to stretch the lower back

It is important for a qualified exercise professional to have knowledge of stretches for the lower back. A lower back stretch needs to be performed safely so a Personal Trainer is always advised to master stretches for lower back areas before using them on clients.

If a PT is working with clients with low back pain then there should be clear GP clearance in place as well as thorough screening measures. Any PT engaging such a client should also be qualified in Exercise for Low Back Pain. Becoming qualified would include a knowledge of stretches for low back pain and an appreciation of what lower back pain stretches to use with a low back pain client.

Exercises for a bad back must be in line with GP clearance and also any advice from referring professionals such as osteopaths. A PT should never prescribe exercise for a bad back without such measures in place.

A back stretch exercise session should only be done by a qualified exercise professional who is aware how to stretch your back safely and effectively as stretching the spine or back area carries injury risk if not done safely and with care.

Lumbar stretches are an important consideration when planning back muscles stretches as stretches for your lower back are important. However these should be considered accordingly by a qualified back pain exercise specialist.

Whilst there may be no universal “best stretching exercise for lower back pain” there are certainly lots of lower back stretches and exercises to consider. Lower back stretches exercises often neglected areas of the core which is why stretching exercises for the lower back are so important. Stretching exercises for lower back pain are useful remedial measures but should only be done by qualified exercise for low back pain professionals in accordance with the client’s GP.

It is important that a back pain exercise specialist knows if you are taking a stretch too far as it is important when prescribing stretches for the lower back that any lower back stretch is performed safely. When a low back pain stretch is performed the client should feel a gentle stretch in their lower back. There should not be any discomfort or pain aggravated by back stretch exercises. If any prescribed stretches for lower back pain cause pain or discomfort or a feeling of being unwell then the back stretch exercise should be stopped and GP advice sought.



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