The erector spinae is a lengthy muscle that spans the entire spine. It is not uncommon for this muscle to get tight and uncomfortable. If your lower back feels stiff this muscle may be the culprit.
It's important to stretch it out if you want to keep your lower back moving and feeling well. Otherwise, this muscle can pull your lower back into an uncomfortable position known as swayback posture where you have a large curve in your lower back.
Three muscles essentially make up the erector spinae, making it a muscle group -- not a singular muscle. All of the muscles perform the same action, which is to extend the spine, but they do it in different areas of the back. The three muscles are:
- Iliocostalis: The iliocostalis muscle is the farthest from the spine and is made of three parts -- the iliocostalis lumborum, iliocostalis thoracis and iliocostalis cervicis.
- Spinalis: The spinalis muscle is the closest muscle to the center of the spine and is also the smallest muscle. It's made of two parts: the spinalis thoracis and spinalis cervicis.
- Longissimus: Between the iliocostalis and spinalis is the longissimus muscle. It's broken down into three parts: the longissimus thoracis, longissimus cervicis and longissimus capitis. Together it's the longest muscle of the back, stretching from the bottom of your spine all the way up to the back of your head.
All three of these muscles can be stretched simultaneously because they all perform the same action. Since these muscles extend the spine you need to flex your spine to stretch them. Flexing your spine means that you are folding forwards with your upper body. Perform these stretches gently since it can be dangerous to aggressively flex your spine.
Make sure that you don't hold your breath while performing these stretches since that can make your muscles tense. Maintain a steady breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. As indicated below, hold each stretch for 60 seconds.
Standing Toe Touch
This stretch, performed properly, is as much an erector spinae stretch as it is a hamstring stretch.
How To: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Reach your hands down towards your feet while keeping your knees straight. Focus on bending at the hips as well as at the back to decrease stress on the spine. Try to relax and let gravity pull you down. Hold for 60 seconds.
Modified Hurdler Stretch
You should feel this stretch in the back of your thighs and up into your lower and middle back, according to an article from the website of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
How To: Sit down on the ground with both legs stretched straight out in front of you. Bend your right leg and put the bottom of your right foot against the inside of your left knee -- allow your right knee to fall toward the floor. Reach down towards your left foot with both hands. Flex from your hips as you fold your back forward and tuck your chin as your hands move down. Go only until you feel a mild stretch.
Seated Lower-Back Stretch
This seated stretch is simple and offers a gentle stretch for your erector spinae. According to an article on the American Council on Exercise's website, you can increase the stretch by squeezing your ab muscles.
How To: Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you and knees slightly bent. Your heels should be on the ground, toes pulling gently toward your shins. Hug your thighs by wrapping your arms under them. Lean forward from your hips to flex your back, tucking your chin. Hold the position for 60 seconds.
This is a traditional yoga pose that stretches your erector spinae and quadriceps.
How To: Get on your hands and knees on the ground in a quadruped position with your hands under your shoulders. Sit your butt back to your heels but keep your hands planted in the same spot -- or allow them to reach even farther forward. Try to touch your forehead to the ground. Hold this position for 60 seconds.