Georgetown University reports that while 8% of adults (some 16 million people) report chronic back pain, over 65 million Americans have reported experiencing a recent episode of back pain. When you think about how much of our lives are centered around sitting, staring at screens, it should come as no shock that our backs hurt. Sitting for long periods of time puts significant pressure on our bodies, from our backs and necks to our arms and legs. One of the best ways to combat joint and muscle pain is through frequent movement and stretching. Try these five stretches to help lower back pain and subscribe to The Red Leaf Daily Stretch Challenge to get a new stretching routine in your inbox each week during the month of May!
Child’s pose is one of the best stretches for releasing the posterior chain, including your back, gluteus muscles, and hip flexors. Our lower backs often become tight because we are stuck sitting (or standing) in a position of extension. Child’s pose puts our lumbar spine in a deep state of flexion, which improves circulation through this area of the body so hang in there until you get through the tension. You’ll notice additional release through your glutes, inner thighs, and hip flexors during child’s pose. All three of these areas contribute to back tightness when they are tight. For an additional stretch through your upper back, relax your arms overhead (pictured above), or for less intensity, drop your hands to your side and rest your cheek on a pillow.
You might be surprised how much pain relief you can feel from this one simple stretch. Start in a tabletop position with your knees directly under your hips. Then, sink your hips back to rest on your heels (or as close as you can get), and extend your arms overhead or lay them down by your side. Rest your forehead on the ground or a pillow, elongate your neck, and pull your shoulder blades down. Take a deep breath in through your nose for 3 seconds, then exhale out of your mouth for 3 seconds. Stay in this position for at least 1 minute at a time.
Cross Body Stretch with Hip Opener
The cross body stretch has myriad health benefits, from releasing tension and pressure in our lower backs to improving circulation through the digestive tract. We spend so much of our time operating in one plane of movement. We sit forward and lie back, but how often do we move laterally or rotationally? If we aren’t being intentional about it, my guess is not often! With this single stretch, you can release your thoracic and lumbar spine, shoulders, chest, glutes and hip flexors. Here’s how we recommend performing the cross body stretch.
Lie on your back with your pelvis and shoulders pressed into the floor. Bring your right knee into your chest and hold for 10 – 15 seconds. Then, guide your right knee out toward your right shoulder until you feel tension. Support your leg by placing one hand on the outside of your knee and the other on the inner part of your calf. Breathe 3 seconds in through your nose and 3 seconds out through your mouth. Hold for 10-15 seconds. Then, guide your right knee across your body and let it rest on the floor on your left. Keep your right shoulder grounded to the floor, and for an additional chest opening stretch, extend your right arm out straight and turn your palm up to the ceiling. Hold for 30 seconds – 1 minute. Repeat on the opposite side.
When it comes to hip and back openers, the yogi squat one of the best stretches to help lower back pain. While ergonomic chairs are certainly an improvement upon the hard, plastic chairs of the past, sitting in a chair for prolonged periods of time negatively impacts range of motion and circulation. The yogi squat releases pressure in the low back and hip flexors, while stretching the inner thighs, calves, ankles, and opening the chest. If you sit (or stand) at a desk during the day, this is a great way to counteract poor posture throughout the day and relieve discomfort.
Place your feet hip-width apart, then squat as low as you can, allowing your lumbar spine to curve. Place your elbows on the inside of your knees and gently apply pressure to press your knees out. Keep your heels firmly planted on the floor for maximum stability. For an additional chest and shoulder stretch, pull your shoulder blades down and back. Hold for as long as you can, stand up to take a break, then repeat.
Happy baby is similar in many ways to the yogi squat, and is one of the best stretches to help lower back pain and hip tightness. The best part about this stretch is that it can be modified quite easily based on your flexibility. Start by lying on your back, then pull your knees in toward your elbows, keeping your tailbone, shoulders, and head firmly grounded to the floor. If possible, reach up to grab the outside of your feet and think about pulling your knees toward the ground. If you are not able to reach the outsides of your feet, you can grab the outside of your mid-shin, or rest your hands on the inside of your thighs and use your elbows to push your thighs outward. Breathe in through your nose for 3 seconds, then out through your mouth for 3 seconds. Hold for one minute, then release your legs so you are lying flat on the ground. Place your arms overhead and stretch your hands and feet away from one another for a full body stretch. Repeat twice.
You can forward fold almost anywhere, which makes it a great stretch to perform throughout the day. If you spend a lot of your day sitting and standing, take a quick break to relieve pressure in your lower back, hamstrings, and calves with a forward fold. Stand with your feet directly under your hips and put a slight bend in your knees. Tuck your chin down, round your shoulders, and fold forward. Let your head and shoulders relax and hold for 15 to 20 seconds. Then, straighten your arms, flatten your back, and stand up to bring your hands overhead. Return your hands to your sides, come back to center, and repeat two to three times.
As our world becomes more and more virtual, we spend significant amounts of time being stationary. If you want to avoid stiffness and joint pain, especially in your lower back, it’s crucial to take time each day to exercise, move, and stretch. For more helpful stretching routines, subscribe to The Red Leaf Daily Stretch Challenge during the month of May! Stay flexy!