The 11 Best Back Stretches to Relieve a Stiff Back (and Aching Hips)

You can get a stiff back from sitting all day or sleeping on a bad mattress.
Image Credit: LENblR/iStock/GettyImages

Feeling a little pinch in your lower back after sitting at your desk for hours or some lower-back pain when you wake up in the morning? Back pain is the leading cause of disability around the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so you're certainly not alone.

So how do you loosen a stiff back? While you'll want to see a qualified professional for help with severe or ongoing pain, you can do a lot to fix your stiff back at home with gentle back stretches and exercises.

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To get you started and feeling relief, we talked to Samuel Becourtney, PT, DPT, CSCS, a doctor of physical therapy at Bespoke Treatments in New York, about the best exercises for a stiff back and stretches for lower back pain.

Incorporate these pain-relieving moves into your day-to-day routine: first thing in the morning, before bed and throughout the day to break up stints sitting or whenever you're feeling pain.

Move 1: Tail Wag

Move 1: Tail Wag
Image Credit: Samuel Becourtney/LIVESTRONG.com
Type Flexibility
  1. Start on all fours in a tabletop position with your shoulders over your wrists, your hips above your knees and your back in a neutral position.
  2. Gently move your hips toward the right, drawing your right hip to your right side.
  3. Pause here for a moment.
  4. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat the lower-back stretch on the opposite side.
  5. Continue for 30 seconds.

Move 2: Prone Hamstring Stretch

Move 2: Prone Hamstring Stretch
Image Credit: Samuel Becourtney/LIVESTRONG.com
Type Flexibility
  1. Lie face-up on an exercise mat with your legs extended in front of you.
  2. Pull your right thigh up toward your chest with your knee bent at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Straighten your leg until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh.
  4. Hold this stretch for one minute before switching to the opposite leg.

Tip

Point the toes of your elevated foot toward your body to add a calf stretch element to this back stretch, Becourtney says.

Move 3: Prone Press Up to Elbows

Move 3: Prone Press Up to Elbows
Image Credit: Samuel Becourtney/LIVESTRONG.com
Skill Level All Levels
Time 30 Sec
Type Flexibility
  1. Start by lying flat on your stomach with your legs extended behind you and your arms in front of you.
  2. Keeping your lower body relaxed and rooted into the ground, prop yourself up on your elbows.
  3. Stretch your torso up slowly.
  4. Lower your torso back down and repeat the lower back stretch for 30 seconds.

Move 4: Knee to Chest Stretch

Move 4: Knee to Chest Stretch
Image Credit: Samuel Becourtney/LIVESTRONG.com
Type Flexibility
  1. Lie face-up on an exercise mat with your legs extended in front of you.
  2. With both hands, pull your left knee toward your chest, bracing your abs, and hold this stretch for five seconds.
  3. Return to the starting position by extending your leg long.
  4. Draw the right knee toward the chest, holding for five seconds.
  5. Return to the starting position.
  6. Draw both knees toward the chest at the same time and hold for five seconds.
  7. Repeat this whole sequence up to three times.

Tip

Try to keep the small of your back glued to the ground as you perform this static back stretch, Becourtney says.

Move 5: Lower Trunk Rotation

Move 5: Lower Trunk Rotation
Image Credit: Samuel Becourtney/LIVESTRONG.com
Type Flexibility
  1. Lie face-up on an exercise mat with your knees bent and feet planted on the ground.
  2. Keeping your shoulders rooted to the ground, roll your bent knees to the right as far as is comfortable.
  3. Hold this stretch for 10 seconds.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat the lower back stretch on the opposite side.

Tip

"The goal is to keep your opposite shoulder blade pinned to the floor as your knees rock in the opposite direction," Becourtney says. "As soon as your shoulder blade lifts off the floor, you lose the dissociation between the lower body and torso that is necessary to maximize this movement."

Move 6: Cat-Cow Stretch

Move 6: Cat-Cow Stretch
Image Credit: Samuel Becourtney/LIVESTRONG.com
Type Flexibility
  1. Start on all fours in a tabletop position with your shoulders over your wrists, your hips above your knees and your back in a neutral position.
  2. Slowly round your back as if you're pulling your bellybutton toward the ceiling.
  3. Pause here for a few moments.
  4. As you exhale, arch your back and sink your abdomen toward the ground.
  5. Repeat the back stretch for 30 seconds.

Move 7: Seated Lower Back Rotational Stretch

Move 7: Seated Lower Back Rotational Stretch
Image Credit: Samuel Becourtney/LIVESTRONG.com
Type Flexibility
  1. Sit on a stool or backless chair.
  2. Cross your right leg over your left.
  3. Brace your left elbow against the outside of your right knee.
  4. Twist your torso to the right gently.
  5. Pause here for a few moments, then repeat on the opposite side.
  6. Continue alternating for a minute.

Tip

"As you rotate, if you feel a point that you get stuck, take a few deep breaths and on the exhale, try to rotate even further," Becourtney says.

Also Got Hip Pain?

If you experience both lower back and hip pain, they might be related. After all, your lower back is part of your hip complex. In some cases, hip pain is a manifestation of a chronic back problem, just as lower back pain may be a result of tight hamstrings, weak abdominal muscles or inflexible hips.

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According to the Mayo Clinic, any hip pain experienced on the outside of the hip, upper thigh or buttocks is often due to issues with the soft tissues that support your hip complex.

If this sounds familiar, add these lower back and hip stretches to your stretching routine to further fix your tight back and hip pain.

Move 1: Child's Pose

  1. Kneel on the floor with the sides of your feet pressed together and your knees separated approximately hip-width apart.
  2. Sit back onto your heels and fold forward, resting your torso on top of your thighs. Place your forehead on the floor, lengthening through the back of your neck. Relax your arms alongside your body, palms face up.
  3. Release your shoulders toward the floor, widening through your upper back.
  4. Hold the lower back and hip stretch for 30 seconds to a minute.

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Move 2: Supine Pelvic Tilt

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Begin with a neutral spine — only your hand should fit between the floor and the arch of your lower back. Engage your abdominal muscles.
  2. Tilt your pelvis toward your torso to flatten your lumbar spine against the floor, keeping your gluteal muscles relaxed.
  3. Hold the lower back and hip stretch for 30 seconds to a minute.

Move 3: Hip Flexor Stretch

  1. Kneel on a folded towel.
  2. Place your right foot flat on the floor in front of you, so that your thigh is parallel to the floor and your knee is bent 90 degrees.
  3. Put your right hand on your thigh for balance. Place your left hand on your hip.
  4. Engage your abdominal muscles and shift your weight forward into your right leg until you feel a stretch that extends from the front of your left hip down into your thigh.
  5. Hold the hip stretch for 30 seconds, then switch sides.

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Move 4: Piriformis Stretch

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Engage your abdominal muscles.
  2. Cross your left ankle over your right knee, and then lift your right foot off the floor until your thigh is vertical and your calf is horizontal.
  3. Interlace your fingers behind your right thigh to hold it in place or draw it closer, deepening the stretch.
  4. Hold the hip stretch for 30 seconds to a minute, then switch sides.

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