Takeaway: Back pain affects people of all ages, from adolescents to the elderly. It is the third most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office. Maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, and stretching can all help with back pain problems. Building strength is one of the best defenses for your back. Follow this list of highly effective stretches for your back.
Persisting back pain makes it hard to focus on anything else—work, school, any daily activity. But we’re here to tell you that when it comes to back pain, regular stretching and strengthening is a win-win. Stretches and strengthening exercises for lower back pain are easy to follow and incredibly beneficial!
Stretching and strengthening is the most effective way to reduce (and even prevent) back pain without taking a trip to the doctor’s office. It can help alleviate discomfort and improve the overall mobility of your spine.
Continue reading for some general medical information on lower back pain, noteworthy statistics, and a list of the best stretches and core strengthening exercises for lower back pain.
Lower back pain, also known as LBP or lumbago, is a common disorder involving the muscles, nerves, and bones of the back. Experts estimate that up to 80% of the population will experience back pain at some time in their lives.
There are three separate classifications for LBP based on the duration of pain:
- Acute: Pain lasting less than 6 hours.
- Sub-chronic: Pain lasting 6 to 12 weeks.
- Chronic: Pain lasting more than 12 weeks.
The underlying cause may further classify the condition as one of the following:
- Mechanical: Pain caused by muscle strain, muscle spasm, or osteoarthritis.
- Non-mechanical: Pain caused by tumors, inflammatory conditions, or infections.
- Referred Pain: Pain from a disease of the internal organs, such as gallbladder disease, kidney stones, kidney infections, blood clots, or bone loss, and pelvic inflammatory diseases.
Back Pain Facts and Statistics
The American Chiropractic Association reports that about 31 million Americans experience lower back pain at any given time. In fact, back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide. Back pain prevents many people from engaging in work and everyday activities.
Back pain is among the most common reasons for missed work days. About 50% of all working Americans admit to experiencing back pain symptoms each year. Back pain accounts for more than 264 million lost work days each year.
Back pain can affect people of all ages, from childhood to our elderly years. It is the third most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office. Lower back pain costs Americans an estimated $50 billion in health care expenses each year.
Lower Left Back Pain vs. Lower Right Back Pain
Most of the anatomy of the lower back and abdomen is symmetrical which means experiencing pain on the left side is not particularly more worrisome than having pain on the right side, and vice versa. Back pain that occurs only on one side just happens to be on that side exclusively. It is very common for most ordinary back pain to dominate one side of the back.
However, there is a small category of back pain that comes specifically from structures that exist only on one side. Although the kidneys are a matched pair of organs, one painful kidney can cause back pain on one side or the other.
The aorta is the largest artery in the body and descends from the heart through the rib cage and along the left side of the spine. An aortic aneurysm can cause severe abdominal lower left back pain. On the other hand, the gallbladder is an organ that is located on the right side of our body and can cause upper to lower right back pain.
Lower Back Pain Risk Factors (Not Related to Disease)
- Age: Back pain is more common and prevalent as we get older starting from around age 30-40.
- Lack of Exercise: Inactivity can lead to weak, unused muscles in your back and abdomen that may cause discomfort in your back.
- Excess Weight: Excess body weight puts extra stress on your back. Overweight individuals report more back problems than those who maintain a healthy weight.
- Improper Lifting: Using your back instead of your legs can strain your back and lead to back pain.
- Psychological Conditions: People who suffer from depression and/or anxiety appear to have a higher risk of back pain.
- Smoking: When you smoke, you are reducing the blood flow to your lower spine, which prevents your body from delivering enough nutrients to the disks in your back. Smoking also slows healing.
Tips to Prevent Lower Back Pain
Follow these simple tips to prevent the onset of lower back pain:
- Maintain a Healthy Weight: Maintaining a healthy diet and weight can lower the risk of back pain in general (not just your lower back).
- Remain Active: Avoid prolonged inactivity or bed rest. Regular activity and exercise can condition your back muscles and prevent sudden injury.
- Stretch: Warm up or stretch before exercising or performing any physical activities, such as chores around the house.
- Maintain Proper Posture: Slouching for an extensive period of time can lead to discomfort in your lower back.
- Invest in a Good Quality Mattress: Sleep on a mattress of medium firmness to minimize any curve in your spine.
- Lift Properly: When lifting an object, bend with your knees, keep the object close to your body, and do not twist.
- Quit Smoking: Smoking impairs blood flow resulting in oxygen and nutrient deprivation to spinal tissues.
Stretching and Strengthening for Lower Back Pain and Prevention
Most back pain can be resolved by keeping your spine strong and flexible through regular maintenance. Building strength is one of the best defenses for your back. Pain experts agree that carefully selected exercises can help reduce chronic back pain.
Follow these simple stretches for lower back pain:
1. Cobra Pose
The Cobra Pose is a great way to stretch your back without the risk of hyperextending your back.
- Lie prone on the floor.
- Stretch your legs back, tops of the feet on the floor.
- Spread your hands on the floor under your shoulders.
- Hug the elbows back into your body.
- Press the tops of the feet and thighs and the pubis firmly into the floor.
- On an inhalation, begin to straighten the arms to lift the chest off the floor, going only to the height at which you can maintain a connection through your pubis to your legs.
- Press the tailbone toward the pubis and lift the pubis toward the navel.
- Narrow the hip points. Tighten but don’t harden the buttocks.
- Tighten the shoulder blades against the back, puffing the side ribs forward.
- Lift through the top of the sternum but avoid pushing the front ribs forward which only hardens the lower back.
- Distribute the backbend evenly throughout the entire spine.
- Hold the pose anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds, breathing easily.
- Release back to the floor with an exhalation.
2. Cat Pose
This yoga stretch provides a gentle massage to the spine and belly organs. The Cat Pose allows you to extend your lower back into flexion and activate the vertebrae of your upper spine.
- Start on your hands and knees in a “tabletop” position.
- Make sure your knees are set directly below your hips and your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are in line and perpendicular to the floor.
- Center your head in a neutral position, eyes looking at the floor.
- As you exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling, making sure to keep your shoulders and knees in position.
- Release your head toward the floor, but don’t force your chin to your chest.
- Inhale, coming back to neutral “tabletop” position on your hands and knees.
- Repeat 10 to 20 times.
3. Cow Pose
The Cat Pose is usually linked with the Cow Pose to combine one of the best stretches for lower back pain. The cow pose is an easy, gentle way to warm up the spine.
- Straighten both legs out in front of you.
- Draw one knee into your chest.
- Stay here for 3 breaths, then push the heel of your straight leg away from you, lengthening your hip and flexing your toes.
- Stay here for 3 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
7. Lying Knee Twist
The Lying Knee Twist stretches the back muscles, realigns and lengthens the spine, and hydrates the spinal disks.
- Lying on your back, bring your arms out to the sides with the palms facing down in a T position.
- Bend the right knee and place your right foot on the left knee.
- Drop the right knee over to the left side of your body, twisting the spine and low back. Look at your right fingertips.
- Keep your shoulders flat to the floor, close your eyes, and relax into the posture. Let gravity pull the knee down, so you do not have to use any effort in this posture.
- Breathe and hold for 6-10 breaths.
- To release: inhale and roll your hips back to the floor, and exhale the leg back down to the floor.
- Repeat on the other side.
8. Pelvic Tilt
The Pelvic Tilt provides support for the lower back and abdominal muscles.
- Lie flat on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- As you exhale, press the small of your back against the floor.
- Hold for 15 seconds, keeping the pelvis and lower back muscles taut.
- Return to the starting position as you inhale.
- Repeat nine more times.
9. Child’s Pose
This yoga stretch helps improve the mobility of the spine while relaxing the muscles of the lower back. Child’s Pose is one of the easiest yoga stretches for lower back pain.
- From a tabletop pose, exhale and lower your hips to your heels and lower your forehead to the floor.
- Keep your knees together or if more comfortable, spread them slightly apart.
- Your arms can be overhead with the palms on the floor, stretched out in front of you.
- Breathe slowly and deeply, actively pressing your belly against your thighs when you inhale.
- Breathe and hold for 4-12 breaths.
- To release: place palms under the shoulders and slowly inhale up to a seated position.
10. Half Camel Pose (Advanced)
The Half Camel Pose tones the kidneys. This yoga pose opens and stretches the shoulder and upper arm, and opens the chest.
Seeking medical attention promptly if:
- Your Back Pain Is Spreading: If your back pain is spreading down to your legs, this can be a serious red flag. This could be a sign that you have a bulging or herniated disk.
- Your Legs Are Weak, Numb, or Tingling: This means that there is involvement of the nerves and requires immediate medical attention.
- You Develop Bowel or Bladder Problems: This could signal Cauda Equina Syndrome, a rare disorder that affects the bundle of nerves at the base of your spine and requires emergency medical attention.
- You Have Blood In Your Urine: Blood in your urine could be a sign of kidney stones. Kidney stones can cause sharp back pain that may become worse during urination. The pain is usually on one side.
- Your Back Pain Turns Into Abdominal Pain: This could be a sign of an infection or a condition that requires surgery, such as appendicitis.
- Any Recent Injury to Your Back: Your doctor should evaluate you after any new injuries if you’ve experienced a back injury in the past.
- You Experience Sudden Weight Loss: This could be a sign of cancer of the colon, rectum, or ovaries.
- Dull Ache In One Specific Spot Over a Bone: This could be a sign of a tumor in the bone.