Lower back pain is, unfortunately, very common.
Just about everything from bad form in the gym to poor posture to genetics can lead to discomfort in the lower back. One of most common causes of lower back pain is that we simply sit too much.
Additionally, the hamstrings and hip flexors tighten as a result of lack of movement.
The hamstrings are three muscles that run along the back of our thighs. They attach to the ischial tuberosity region in our lower pelvis (commonly known as the sit bones).
“Often times, when there’s lower back pain, you’re typically experiencing tightness in the hamstrings or the glutes. So, always look there first,” says Aaptiv trainer Jade Alexis.
Tightened muscles plus improper spinal posture equals lower back pain. To help you loosen up and release tight lower back muscles and more, we talked to Alexis and Aaptiv trainer Ceasar F. Barajas to learn their go-to lower back stretches.
Use your upper body as a weight to stretch your lower back with this move. “The idea is that the upper torso is heavy like a sinking weight,” says Barajas explains. “The head hangs, making sure that the spine stays in alignment, but slightly rounded.”
To perform the move, you simply take a slight bend in the knees, feet shoulder-width apart, and just let the body fold over.
According to Barajas, it helps to think about bringing the bottom of your rib cage to the top of your thighs. Hang there for a few moments, then slowly rise up.
There’s liberty in the arms here. Barajas explains that you can let them hang or take hold of opposite elbows. “Nothing you’re doing is rushed—it’s all very slow and deliberate movement,” he adds. “You can also play with straightening one leg and bending the other.”
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Seated Forward Fold
Similar to its standing counterpart, Alexis turns to the seated forward fold to loosen tight hamstrings. To perform this move, you simply sit with your legs stretched long in front of you and fold your body forward as you did in the standing version.
“The legs extended out in front will help to stretch out the hamstrings,” Alexis explains. If you’re lower back is too tight to get a good range of motion, however, she offers a modification. “Sit on a block or a yoga bolster to elevate yourself,” she says.
“That will help release the hamstrings and not put any pressure on the lower back.” This will help you go deeper into your forward fold.
This yoga staple is a great stretch for your lower back. To perform this pose, start on all fours with your knees and palms to the ground.
Then, as Barajas explains, spread the knees wide and bring your big toes to kiss together. Sit your hips back on your heels and extend your arms straight out in front of you.
“Imagine the padding underneath your knuckles pressing into the ground,” he says. “Be mindful about bringing the shoulders away from the ears. Ideally, with time, you want to aim to touch your armpits to the ground.”
He adds that you can also perform this pose with your knees and feet together, arms at your sides, and your forehead resting on the ground. “You look like a little turtle,” he explains. “It’s a nice way to round out the back and it will give you a stretch through the upper shoulders, middle back, and lower back.”
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The line twist is an ideal stretch for those muscles responsible for helping your spine turn and bend. To perform the line twist, start on your back. Hug your right knee into your chest and keep the other leg extended. Extend your right arm out to form a half-T.
Then, slowly twist your body over to the left side, careful to keep your right shoulder anchored to the ground, Barajas explains. “Turn the gaze towards the right fingertips, as you use your left hand to help bring the right knee closer to the ground on the left side,” he says. “If you don’t have that flexibility then just go to where the body stops,” he says.
Be conscious of your breathing as you perform this stretch. Barajas notes that many people subconsciously stop breathing when trying this stretch. “Even if the body is folded over and constricted, try to take as deep a breath as possible.”
The supine twist is similar to the line twist, but it employs both knees at once. To perform, start on your back and hug your knees into your chest.
Allow your upper torso to relax, keeping your head and shoulders on the ground. Extend your arms out to your sides and let your knees roll over to one side. Stay mindful as you perform this move.
“Sometimes we let gravity do the work and we let our legs drop,” Barajas explains. “The idea is to fight against gravity, let everything lower slowly, breathe, and sit with it a moment.” Repeat the same twist on the other side.
Pigeon Pose on Your Back
Alexis recommends this modified pigeon pose for loosening up tight lower back muscles. To perform, start on your back.
Bend your right knee and bring the leg to your chest. Grab onto your shin and pull the leg in towards you. Keep the left leg fully extended and flat on the ground. If that’s too difficult, you can also bend the left knee and rest the right ankle on top of the opposite knee. According to Alexis, the modification should look like a seated figure four pose on your back.
To deepen the stretch, reach through your legs, grab hold of your left hamstring, and pull it toward you. “The rule of thumb when you’re stretching with deep stretches is to hold it for as long as you can,” Alexis explains. “If you feel something releasing, then maybe hold it a little longer.”
This traditional yoga pose is one of Alexis’ favorite for lengthening the spine. Start on your hands and knees, with your hands directly under your shoulders, and your knees directly under your hips.
On an inhale, arch your back from your tailbone to your neck. Then on an exhale, drop your head, and round your back. Concentrate on pulling your navel up toward your spine. Repeat, moving slowly between the two positions.
It’s important that you really focus on isolating the spine. “Don’t shift forward and back with your whole body,” Alexis explains.
“Keep the shoulders right above the wrists, hips right above the knees, and try and let the spine shift up and down. You create length that way in your spine.”
Now that you see how yoga can benefit your lower back, check out a sample Aaptiv class here!