Exercises for a Tight Lower Back

Having tight muscles in the low back impedes flow of blood through the muscles and can cause painful cramping and spasms. Tight muscles are weak muscles that are in a constant state of contraction, says licensed massage therapist Julie Onofrio on the Massage Seattle website. A mix of exercise and massage often helps release tight low back muscles.

A woman is getting taped to help relieve her lower back pain. (Image: Horsche/iStock/Getty Images)

Take a Progressive Approach

When approached in a progressive way, doing certain back and core muscle exercises regularly will relieve tightness and pain in the lumbar region, help prevent recurrent bouts of low back discomfort and distribute nutrients to the muscles, discs, ligaments and joints to support their health, says Peter F. Ullrich, Jr., MD, on the Spine Health website. Though it may be tempting to cease physical activity for more than a few days, doing so can make symptoms worse and delay healing, Ullrich explains.

Stretching for Low Back Pain

Stretching a tight pirformis muscle often helps relieve tightness in the low back and hips. The pirformis muscle runs from back of the thigh bone to the sacrum, or the base of the spine. To stretch it, lie on the floor with knees bent, feet positioned about hip-width apart. Maintain neutrality in the spine by allowing it to stay flat against the floor. Cross your right leg over your left, so that the right ankle rests on the left knee. Raise the left leg toward your chest. You can put your hands together under the left knee and gently pull the leg toward you for a deeper stretch. Keep your back straight and flat against the floor as you hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Lower your legs to the floor with care and repeat on the right side.

Strengthen the Transversus Abdominis

Stabilizing exercises help relieve low back pain. Building a strong midline decreases excess pressure on the low back, according to Robert Daul, MPT, on Spine-Health.com. Therefore strengthening abdominal muscles, such as the transversus abdominis in the front of the body and the gluteal muscles in the back, should be part of a stabilization exercise program, he says. Lie on the floor, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart. Maintain a neutral spine by keeping a straight back, flat against the floor. Create a C-curve in your abs by pulling your navel in toward the spine. Exhale and raise your arms toward the ceiling as you lift your shoulders a few inches off the floor. Hold this position for a couple of seconds; inhale as you lower back to the floor. Do as many reps as you can without compromising good form. Perform this once daily.

Strengthen the Glutes

Double leg bridge exercises strengthen the gluteal muscles and stabilize the pelvic and hip regions. Weakness in the pelvic region and hips often causes problems in the low back. Lie on your back with knees bent, heels positioned close to the buttocks and arms by your sides. Squeeze your navel in toward the spine to engage your ab muscles. Stabilize your legs through your glutes by contracting the gluteal muscles rather than tightening through the thighs. Lift your buttocks from the floor and keep your back straight but not arched. Hold for a few seconds before slowly releasing to the floor. Do up to 10 reps, unless you experience pain.


Stretching, strengthening and cardiovascular exercise should be a part of a workout routine aimed at relieving low-back tightness and pain. Exercises must be geared toward your specific diagnosis and pain level, so be sure to consult a physical therapist to develop a fitness plan based on your needs and abilities.

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