10 Stretches to Get Rid of a Stiff Back

Muscle strains, ligament sprains and poor posture: These can all be causes of a stiff back. Whatever the cause, there are ways to combat a sore or tight back, including lower back stretches and exercises. Grab a mat or a chair, wag your "tail" or arch your back, and get started on a set of stretches that will loosen your muscles.

Cat pose is a great stretch for a stiff lower back. (Image: fizkes/iStock/GettyImages)

Causes of a Stiff Back

A stiff back is often associated with lower back pain which can occur for a variety of reasons. Anything from an injury, to a medical condition to a fall can lead to aching and tightness in your back. Some common lifestyle or exercise-related causes of a sore or stiff back, according to MedlinePlus, include:

  • Sitting in one position for a long time
  • Muscle spasm (tense muscles)
  • Strain or tear to ligaments supporting the back

Causes related to medical conditions may include:

  • Spinal curvatures
  • Sciatica
  • Problems related to pregnancy
  • Arthritis conditions
  • Infection of the spine or kidney

The NHS points to conditions specifically related to stiffness in your back. Ankylosing spondylitis causes pain and stiffness that's usually most uncomfortable in the morning and gets better with movement. Spondylolisthesis causes lower back pain and stiffness and may also cause numbness and a tingling sensation.

Tight Lower Back Stretches

University Health Services at UC Berkeley recommends basic lower back exercises that can loosen back muscles and alleviate soreness. They suggest performing the exercises slowly without forcing movement and to breathe throughout the exercises.

  • Tail wag: Position yourself on your hands and knees, with your back in a neutral position. Gently move your hips toward your rib cage to side-bend your torso. In other words, rotate your right hip toward your right shoulder. Hold, then alternate to the other side.
  • Hamstrings: Lie on your back, pull your thigh up to your chest at about a 90-degree angle and straighten your leg until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Make sure your legs are fully straightened, even if they're not at a complete 90-degree angle to your hip. Hold for 1 minute, then switch to the opposite leg.
  • Prop up on elbows: Lying flat on your stomach, prop yourself up on your elbows. Keep the pelvis, hips and legs relaxed and hold for 30 seconds.

15-Minute Daily Back Exercises

The Mayo Clinic recommends a set of back exercises that can be done in 15 minutes a day. These exercises stretch and strengthen the back muscles and help ease tightness.

  • Knee-to-chest stretch: Lie on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor. Pull up one knee with both hands and pull it to the chest while tightening the abdominal muscles. Hold for five seconds. Returning to the starting position, then repeat with the opposite leg. Finally, repeat with both legs at the same time.
  • Lower back rotational stretch: Lying on your back with your knees bent and feet planted flat on the floor, roll your bent knees to one side, while keeping your shoulders firmly to the floor. Hold for 10 seconds. Go back to starting position and repeat on the other side.
  • Lower back flexibility exercises: Lie on your back, feet on the ground, knees bent. Tighten your abdominal muscles so that your stomach shifts away from your waistband and hold for five seconds, then relax. Flatten your back, pulling your belly-button toward the floor and hold for five seconds, then relax. Repeat.
  • Bridge exercise: Lie on your back, knees bent, feet planted on the ground. Keep your shoulders and head relaxed, while tightening your abdominal and gluteal muscles and raising your hips to form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Complete three deep breaths while holding this position. Lower back down, then repeat.
  • Cat stretch: Situate yourself on your hands and knees, then slowly arch your back as if you're pulling your stomach toward the ceiling, then slowly allow your back and abdomen to sink toward the floor. Return to starting position and repeat.
  • Seated lower back rotational stretch: Sitting on a stool or backless chair, cross one leg over the other. Brace your elbow against the outside of the opposite knee, then twist and stretch to the side. Repeat on the opposite side.
  • Shoulder blade squeeze: Sitting on a stool or backless chair, sit upright and pull your shoulder blades together. Hold for five seconds, then relax.
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