The following exercises may improve lower-back flexibility and keep your spine healthy. Make sure your workouts incorporate both stretching and strengthening exercises for proper spine alignment.
Normal Spine Curvature
A normal spine has three curves that keep your center of gravity aligned to allow you to walk and move normally. The cervical spine has an inward curve, while the thoracic spine has an outward curve. The lumbar spine, or lower back, has a lordosis or inward curve, explains the Columbia University Department of Neurological Surgery.
Some people lose that inward curve of the lower back, leading to flatback syndrome. This can cause the center of gravity to move too far forward, which may result in back pain and difficulty standing upright.
For those with advanced flatback syndrome, their condition may be caused by compression fractures, degenerative disk disease or ankylosing spondylitis, so it's important to see a doctor for evaluation.
Most people can be treated with physical therapy and exercises to improve lower-back flexibility, says Columbia University. If exercises and therapy don't work, then surgery may be required to alleviate pain and correct the spine alignment.
Lower-Back Flexibility Exercises
A flat back causes muscle imbalances, resulting in some muscles becoming weak and others becoming tight. It's crucial to address both problems to help arch your back correctly. An April 2019 review in PLOS One indicates that it's important to incorporate both stretching and strengthening exercises into your routine to improve the angle of the lumbar lordosis. Stretching alone may not be effective.
Read more: Flat Back Exercises
The above review recommends performing exercises two to three times per week for at least eight to 12 weeks to improve spinal curvatures.
According to the American Council on Exercise, the following three exercises are important for those with a flat back or reduced lumbar lordosis. Talk with your doctor before starting a workout program and stop any exercise that causes pain.
Move 1: Contralateral Limb Raise
- Lie on your stomach on a mat with your legs straight and arms extended overhead. Your palms should be facing each other.
- As you exhale, contract your abdominal muscles and raise one arm a few inches off of the floor. Avoid arching your back or raising your head. Repeat with the other arm.
- Contract your abdominal muscles and slowly raise one leg off the floor. Again, avoid arching back or lifting your head. Repeat with the other leg.
- Once you have mastered arms and legs only, lift one leg while simultaneously raising the opposite arm. Hold this briefly before returning to the starting position.
- Perform 2 sets of 10 reps.
Move 2: Bird Dog
This is similar to the contralateral limb raise exercise above, but you will be in a kneeling position.
- Kneel on all fours on an exercise mat, with your knees and feet hip-width apart.
- Stiffen your core to keep the spine neutral, avoiding sagging or arching.
- Slowly extend your left leg, raising and straightening it until it is parallel to the floor.
- At the same time, slowly lift your right arm so that it's parallel to the floor, no higher than shoulder height.
- Repeat with the right leg and left arm.
- Only raise your limbs high enough so that you can keep your back in a straight position.
- Repeat five to 10 times on each side.
Move 3: Hamstring Stretch
- Lie flat on your back near the corner of a wall.
- Place one leg up on the wall, with the other knee bent and foot on the floor.
- Scoot as close as you can to the wall but stop if your hips start to lift off the floor. Your hips should be resting on the floor.
- Exhale and contract your quads while flexing your foot as you feel the stretch in the back of your leg.
- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and then relax. Repeat two to four times on each side.
Yoga Moves for Spine Flexibility
Yoga is a great method to maintain back strength and improve flexibility, says Harvard Health Publishing. In fact, they report it is one of the most effective exercises to reduce lower-back pain. To prevent injury, perform each movement slowly and deliberately, allowing your body to adjust to each movement.
Talk to your doctor before starting yoga to ensure that it's safe for you. The following asanas are great at improving lower-back flexibility to arch your back, says Boston University.
Move 1: Sphinx
- Lie on your stomach on a mat, with your legs straight behind you, hip-width apart. Keep your feet flat and don't tuck your toes. Your chin will be on the mat.
- Bend your elbows and rest them near your shoulders, with your middle fingers pointing forward.
- As you inhale, press your forearms into the floor and lift your head and chest off the floor as you draw your chest forward.
- Keep your pubic bone pressed into the floor.
- Hold for 10 breaths. Exhale as you come back down to neutral.
- Repeat three to five times.
Move 2: Cobra
Once you can easily do the Sphinx, you can progress to the Cobra. Don't perform this if you're pregnant or have a wrist injury.
- Lie on your stomach with your legs straight behind you. Keep your feet straight and don't crunch your toes.
- Place your hands under your shoulders, with the fingers pointing straight.
- Inhale as you lift your head and chest off the floor, looking up toward the sky as you draw your shoulders back.
- If you're flexible enough and don't have pain, straighten your arms all the way while your pelvis stays on the floor. Stop if you experience pain.
- Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat three to five times as tolerated.
- Columbia University Department of Neurological Surgery: "Flatback Syndrome"
- PLOS One: "Effects of Exercise Programs on Kyphosis and Lordosis Angle: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- American Council on Exercise: "Identifying and Working with Common Postural Deviations"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Safe Way to Do Yoga for Back Pain"
- Boston University: "Yoga Can Ease That Aching Back"