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8 Stretches to Alleviate Back Pain

If you experience regular back pain, you know how much of an impact it can have on your daily life; it can affect your physical activity level, how comfortably you can sit for work, or even how well you sleep at night. Of course, there are solutions like anti-inflammatory or pain relief medications, but before going that route, you might try some simple stretches to see if that helps. 

In this article, we’ll share eight stretches that could help you alleviate your back pain. Remember, if you live with back pain or an injury, always talk to your doctor before introducing any new stretches or exercises, and be sure to ease into these stretches with care. If anything here feels like it is hurting your back more, trust your body and either stop or ease off. 

1. Cat Pose

Cat Pose is a gentle and safe stretch for most people. You are in charge of how much you lean into this stretch, so if it ever feels like too much, simply reduce your range of motion. 

  1. Get onto your hands and knees, preferably on a yoga mat or carpet to relieve pressure on your knees.
  2. Slowly arch your back up toward the ceiling, pulling your belly inward.
  3. Your back should look curved upward, rounded, like an angry cat’s. 
  4. Gently let your back and abdomen return to their original, neutral position.
  5. Repeat this arching movement three to five times.

Mayo Clinic1 recommends repeating this twice a day.

2. Cow Pose

Cow Pose is similar to Cat Pose but inverted. Oftentimes in yoga classes, Cat and Cow Pose are done together, alternating between the two. You can feel free to do these together, alternating between the two, or you can do them separately. 

  1. Get onto your hands and knees, preferably on a yoga mat or carpet to relieve pressure on your knees.
  2. Dip your back and abdomen down toward the floor, so that your back makes a U shape.
  3. Relax your abdomen and imagine it hanging down low, like a cow’s belly.
  4. Gently pull your back and abdomen back to their original, neutral position.
  5. Repeat this dipping movement three to five times, up to twice a day.

3. Lumbar Rotation Stretch

This stretch is all about not pushing and instead, allowing gravity to do its job. If it becomes uncomfortable, move your knees back toward center alignment. 

  1. Lie on your back, preferably on a yoga mat or carpet for comfort.
  2. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor.
  3. With your shoulders flat on the floor, rotate your knees to one side and let them fall toward the floor.
  4. Hold for 10 seconds.
  5. Return to your starting position and repeat this on the other side.

Remember, you’re not forcing your knees to meet the floor; in fact, they probably won’t touch the floor. That’s okay, it’s just about letting gravity gently stretch the lower back. Hackensack Meridian Health2 recommends doing this two or three times per day. 

4. Lumbar Flexion Stretch

Here’s another floor stretch that you can take at your own comfort level. 

  1. Lie on your back, preferably on a yoga mat or something comfortable like carpet. 
  2. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor.
  3. Arch your lower back up, similar to Cat Pose, so that it lifts up off the floor toward the ceiling.
  4. Hold this for five seconds.
  5. Then lower your back so that it is flat on the floor.
  6. You may have to imagine tucking your pelvis slightly upward and pulling your belly button down in order to get your low back completely flat on the floor.
  7. Hold this for five seconds.
  8. Then repeat this arching upward and then flattening down on the floor of your low back five times.

You can gradually work your way up to 30 repetitions a day, according to Mayo Clinic1

5. Spine Sciatic Nerve Glide

Nerve gliding is also sometimes called “Nerve Flossing3.” This particular stretch is excellent for those with sciatic pain4, which may feel like a mild tingling, dull ache, burning sensation, or even electric shock somewhere between the lower back, hips, and down each leg. 

  1. Lie on your back on the floor, preferably on a yoga mat or something comfortable like carpet. 
  2. Lay your left leg flat on the floor.
  3. Lift your right leg and bend your knee so that your leg is at a 90-degree angle; your shin will be parallel to the floor.
  4. Clasp your hands behind your bent knee and flex your toes back toward your face.
  5. Then begin to straighten this bent leg so that your foot is moving toward the ceiling.
  6. Do this until you begin to feel a stretch in the back of your leg.
  7. Lower your leg so that it is at a 90-degree angle again, then raise it and lower it 10 times.
  8. Lower your right leg so that it is flat on the ground, and repeat the process with your left leg. 

6. Lumbar Extention

If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you might know this stretch as either “cobra5” or “sphinx6” pose. Imagining the shape of a cobra or sphinx – with most of their body flat on the ground but curved upward at the low back, and the head high in the air – might be a good way to imagine the shape of this pose. 

  1. Lie flat on the ground on your stomach, preferably on a yoga mat or carpet for comfort.
  2. Start by placing your forearms on the floor, then lift your upper back and head up off the ground.
  3. Make sure your neck is straight and you’re looking directly forward.
  4. If this is too intense, move your forearms further away from your body, so there is less of a curve in your low back.
  5. If this is not intense enough, you can walk your forearms in, or even place your hands on the floor as your base, to create more of a curve in your lower back.

Ability Rehabilitation7 notes that this stretch is not appropriate for all types of back pain, including spondylolisthesis or facet joint pathology. 

7. Knee-to-Chest Stretch

This gentle stretch is appropriate for most forms of back pain and should feel like a relief on your low back. If it hurts, try adding a yoga mat between you and the floor. 

  1. Lie on your back with your needs bent and your feet flat on the floor. 
  2. Using both of your hands, take your right knee and pull it gently into your chest. 
  3. Pull in your abdomen and tuck your pelvis so that your low back lies flat on the floor. 
  4. Hold this for 10 seconds. 
  5. Return to the starting position. 
  6. Do the same thing with your left leg. 
  7. Finally, hug both knees gently into your chest at the same time, keeping your lower back flat on the ground. 
  8. Repeat two or three times. 

Mayo Clinic recommends doing this stretch once in the morning and once at night to alleviate back pain1

8. Bridge

Bridge Pose is a great way to stretch out the hip flexors, strengthen the glutes, and relieve pressure on the lower back. 

  1. Lie on your back, preferably on a yoga mat or carpet for comfort. 
  2. Bend your knees and keep your feet pressed, flat on the floor. 
  3. Let your arms rest comfortably on the floor, alongside your body. 
  4. Tighten your abdominal and glute muscles, and then begin lifting your hips up off the floor. 
  5. Hold this position – hips and low back lifted off the floor, shoulders and arms pressed into the ground, feet flat on the floor – for 10 seconds. 
  6. Return to the starting position, and then repeat. 

Mayo Clinic recommends starting out with five reps per day and then working your way up to 30 reps to relieve lower back pain1

Benefits of Stretching for Lower Back Pain

  • Can heal lower back pain – According to Harvard Health8, a combination of stretching and strengthening can not only reduce symptoms of pain in the lower back, but it can also heal the root cause of the pain. 
  • Improves overall health – According to the Wexner Medical Center9 at Ohio State, stretching increases circulation, boosts oxygen levels, and even helps deliver important nutrients to the muscles. 
  • It removes metabolic waste – When you stretch, things like carbon dioxide, ammonia, and uric acid are eliminated from your body9. This can also improve your overall health, and reduce the feeling of sore muscles and stiff joints.
  • It warms up your muscles – Stretching before physical activity can help warm up your muscles and reduce the risk of injury9. If you have back pain, this may help you prevent it from getting worse.
  • Stretching can minimize and prevent back spasms – According to the Pain Medicine Group10, stretching can minimize back spasms and stiffness and can treat piriformis syndrome, which is when the piriformis muscle becomes too tight or weak.
  • Stretching can reduce stress – Stretching has been shown11 to increase serotonin levels, reduce stress, and decrease anxiety and depression. 
  • It increases your range of motion – Research suggests12 that stretching helps increase your range of motion. 
  • It can improve your sleep – Pain in the body is a recipe for trouble sleeping. When you stretch, you can eliminate some of these aches and pains, and ultimately, improve how well you sleep.

Tips for Stretching to Alleviate Back Pain

  • Wear comfortable clothing – Don’t wear clothes that will restrict your movements while stretching. 
  • Use a yoga mat – Using a yoga mat to provide some padding and placing it on a hard, flat surface like the floor will be a good combination for the stretches above. This should keep you comfortable and also keep your spine aligned while stretching. 
  • Start slow – Colorado State University’s Center for Healthy Aging recommends starting out by stretching two or three times per week, holding the stretches for 15 to 30 seconds. When this becomes easier and more comfortable, you can increase the duration and frequency of the stretches11.
  • Listen to your body – If a stretch hurts, listen to your body. Don’t push past your body’s limits or you could injure yourself, making your back pain worse. 
  • Don’t “bounce” in the stretch – Instead, the Pain Medicine Group recommends holding still while stretching, and then releasing the stretch. “Bouncing” your muscles into a stretch may cause them to tear10.
  • Be patient with your progress – It may take some time to see and feel the benefits of stretching on your back pain. Be patient and keep gently stretching. 
  • Consult a doctor – Before adding any new exercises, medications, or even stretches into your regimen, consult your doctor, especially if you’re dealing with a back injury or chronic back pain. 

Final Word of Advice

Regular back pain can have a profound impact on the way we live, work, exercise, and sleep. The good news is that simply introducing a combination of gentle strengthening and stretching could help address the cause of the problem and have a positive long-term impact. 

Remember, if you have a back injury or back pain, be sure to consult your doctor or physical therapist before adding in any new stretches or exercises. 

Natalie Grigson

Natalie Grigson


About Author

Natalie is a content writer for Sleep Advisor with a deep passion for all things health and a fascination with the mysterious activity that is sleep. Outside of writing about sleep, she is a bestselling author, improviser, and creative writing teacher based out of Austin.

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  1. “Back exercises in 15 minutes a day”. Mayo Clinic. Last modified June 3, 2023. 
  2. Verma, Ravi. “Easy Stretches for Back Pain Relief”. Hackensack Meridian Health. 2022.
  3. “Nerve Flossing-Hamstring”. Northwestern University. Webpage accessed June 2, 2023. 
  4. “Sciatica”. Mayo Clinic. Last modified September 13, 2022. 
  5. “Cobra Pose”. Yoga Journal. Last modified August 28, 2007. 
  6. “Sphinx Pose”. Yoga Journal. Last modified August 28, 2007. 
  7. “6 Easy Stretches to Reduce Back Pain”. Ability Rehabilitation. Webpage accessed June 2, 2023. 
  8. “Stretching and strengthening are key to healing and preventing back pain”. Harvard Health. 2014.
  9. Miller MD, Timothy. “Why stretching is more important than you think”. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. 2017.
  10. “The Benefits of Stretching to Relieve Lower Back Pain”. Pain Medicine Group. Webpage accessed June 4, 2023. 
  11. “The Simple Act of Stretching”. Colorado State University. 021.
  12. Bryant, Joseph., Cooper, Darren J., et. al. “The Effects of Static Stretching Intensity on Range of Motion and Strength: A Systematic Review”. Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology. 2023.