You know the drill: After spending all night in bed, you wake up with an achy back.
You're not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lower back pain is one of the most common ailments out there, causing more disability worldwide than any other condition. That doesn't mean you have to just grin and bear it — in fact, there's no better time to address it than at the start of each day.
One simple, feel-good way is by doing the knees-to-chest stretch — lying on your back and gently hugging both knees toward (you guessed it!) your chest.
"Because this stretch lengthens tight back muscles and moves the spine in the opposite direction, it should feel great upon waking," says Aimee Nicotera, CPT, a certified personal trainer and health coach in Massachusetts, tells LIVESTRONG.com. You can even do it from the comfort of your bed.
Yet don't think you have to reserve this stretch for mornings only. Whenever you feel your back getting tight, especially if you've been sitting for long periods or have done too much physical activity — let that be your cue to drop down and do the knees-to-chest stretch.
Not only will you feel instant relief, you'll also be promoting a healthier spine.
"Specific issues that affect the spine may get worse with age, but when you feel good and are pain-free, you can do more of the things you enjoy throughout life," Nicotera says. For many people, that's the very definition of healthy aging, which means you need to make this stretch part of your daily routine.
How to Do the Knees-to-Chest Stretch
You can do this stretch daily or even several times a day to help relieve any tension or discomfort. How long you hold it will depend on what benefits you want.
If you're hoping to reduce muscle tension in your lower back, hold it for 10 to 30 seconds. In general, most people experience improved mobility and less tension by holding it for 20 to 30 seconds, releasing for 20 to 30 seconds and then repeating three to four times, Nicotera says.
- Lie face-up on the floor with your legs extended and arms at your sides.
- Bend your knees and bring them toward your chest.
- Place your hands around the backs of your thighs, gently pulling your knees to your chest with more intention. Note that you may find it more comfortable to let your knees come apart, each knee pointing to the same side shoulder.
- Relax and breathe as you hold the stretch.
Why the Knees-to-Chest Stretch Is Great for Healthy Aging
1. It Eases Muscle Imbalances
Back pain is often caused by muscle imbalances that can occur as a result of prolonged sitting, whether in an office chair, car or even on a bike (if you're riding hundreds of miles).
The muscles that are used to flex the hips can get tight and pull the pelvis forward into an anterior tilt, which can change your posture, exacerbate muscle imbalance and may result in pain, Nicotera says. By doing this stretch, you can work against those changes.
2. It Promotes Good Posture
Modern technology and sedentary living are making poor posture the norm. One reason? When you sit for long periods, your pelvis gets pulled out of alignment.
"If certain muscles are in a tight or shortened state, they can pull the pelvis out of the ideal alignment," she says. Yet by stretching the low back, you can improve spinal alignment, which will lead to better posture in the long run.
3. It Improves Circulation
One of the benefits of stretching in general is that it has been shown to increase circulation and improve the health of your blood vessels, Nicotera says.
By doing this stretch, you're promoting increased circulation in your low back, which will help send oxygen and nutrients to that area to help decrease stiffness.
4. It Increases Mobility
Mobility losses in older adults are common, and contribute to falls, chronic pain and loss of independence.
Want your spine and hip joints, as well as the tissues around those joints, to support your daily activities? Then you need to work on both, which this stretch does.
5. It Decreases Stress
This goes for any stretch, especially when you make breathing a focus as you hold a stretch. "Making the intentional effort to relax and slow down while performing any stretch contributes to a more relaxed state," Nicotera says.
Not a bad way to start off your day.