Back Pain Stretches | 12 Stretches for Back Pain Relief (w/ pictures & videos)

If you’re suffering with back pain, choosing the right back pain stretches is vital for pain relief. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the best back pain stretches for relief, including videos and pictures to guide you.

The truth is, it’s not always easy to choose the right back pain stretches. If you choose ones that don’t agree with your back, it’s possible to aggravate back pain. Be sure to always be guided by your healthcare providers when choosing the right back pain stretches for you.

In this article, I’ve picked 9 of my most effective back pain stretches to show you today. You’ll find pictures of the back pain stretches as well as videos for each. I’ve also included a handy guide for choosing which of these back pain stretches are right for you. You’ll find a guide to the number of repetitions and sets you should be doing for each exercise below the pictures.

Of course, not all of these exercises will be right for everyone and choosing the right back pain stretches is often a game of trial and error.

As always, I recommend to everyone that these exercises should be pain-free at all times. You can read about why I tell everyone this by clicking here. If you find one of the following back pain stretches painful, simply stop and choose another instead.

Before we dive in, please be aware that we are part of the Amazon Affiliate programme. This page may contain Amazon affiliate links, so if you choose to purchase a product for your sciatica that we recommend through a link on this page, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps us keep Overcome Sciatica alive! Thank you for your support. Please be assured that we only ever recommend products that we truly believe can help. 

How to use this guide: As everyone will have different requirements for their back pain stretches, no one should be doing all of the exercises on this page! If you did, you’d be there all day. You’d also find that some were probably painful for you. The best way to start is to read the descriptions and “Who this is for” section of each exercise and pick 1-3 to try for a period of about a week. Change any exercise that worsens your pain. 

It is also very important that you seek a medical opinion before starting any new exercise regime for back pain. These back pain stretches are simply for informational purposes – they are not going to be appropriate for everyone and may be counter-productive for some people. Check with your doctor first.

First, it’s important to ask the question “Should I be doing back pain stretches right now? Or would rest be better?”

I’ve answered this question, in the context of sciatica, in the video below:

So, once you’ve watched the video above, let’s have a look at some of my most effective back pain stretches for pain relief:

The 9 Best Back Pain Stretches for Back Pain Relief

#1 – Happy Cat/Angry Cat

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Instructions:

  • Begin on all fours, supported by your hands and knees
  • Start off by rounding your shoulders and tilting your head forward so as to look towards your knees
  • Try to push your shoulder blades apart from each other as you round your shoulders further, hollowing your tummy out at the same time. You should feel your lower back round as your tummy gets further away from the floor.
  • Now move in the opposite way. Arch your back as you lift your chin and bring your shoulder blades together again
  • Alternate between these two positions for 30-seconds, being sure to make the transition between them as smooth as possible.
  • Repeat this exercise 2-3 times per day

Who this back pain stretch is for:

This exercise will be useful for most people with back pain, so long as they can get onto the floor safely. You must only persist with this back pain stretch if it doesn’t cause your back pain or sciatica to worsen.

Why this back pain stretch works:

This back pain stretch is a way of doing something called “nerve flossing”. You can read all about nerve flossing here.

The way your are alternating your back between an arched position and a rounded position leads to your spinal cord and the nerves in your leg sliding through the tight spaces that they run through. Doing this repeatedly can help to free up any entrapments along the course of that nerve, and help to provide back pain relief. Less entrapment and smoother mobility of the nerve leads to less pain!


#2 – Cobra Pose

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Instructions:

  • Begin laying face-down on a firm surface like a mat on the floor or a hard mattress
  • Place your hands in line with your shoulders and gently push up, raising your torso off the floor
  • Keep your hips down on the floor
  • Only go as far as is comfortable – no need to get to full extension for a benefit!
  • Gently lower yourself to the starting position and repeat up to a maximum of 10 times.
  • Do a set of these 3-4 times per day

Who this back pain stretch is for:

Usually, people suffering with a disc bulge find this exercise one of the most useful for improving their symptoms. However, regardless of what is causing your back pain, you should only persist with this exercise if it is comfortable to perform this movement. This exercise is a good place to start if you have trouble bending forward.

Why this back pain stretch works:

This back pain stretch works because it involves movement of the lower spine which encourages blood to flow to the injured area – so healing can occur. Some researchers also believe this exercise causes a disc bulge to “centralise” into the disc where it can’t pinch on a nerve root.


#3 – Knee Hugs

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Instructions

  • Lie on a mat on the floor or on a firm bed with both knees bent halfway.
  • Slowly raise one knee up towards your chest and secure it with a hand
  • Raise the other leg up and secure this one as well
  • Gently pull in towards your chest, allowing your lower back to slightly relax
  • One leg at a time, return to the start position
  • Repeat this 8-10 times, every 2 hours if you find it provides back pain relief

Who this back pain stretch is for:

This exercise is great for all kinds of back pain. I use this one especially frequently as a back pain stretch for older people who have back pain as a result of spinal stenosis. You may find this one difficult if you have a disc bulge, so avoid if it aggravates your symptoms.

Why this back pain stretch works:

It allows the lower back to relax and alleviates tension associated with the tight muscles around the lumbar spine. This back pain stretch relieves tension on a compressed nerve root in people with age-related deterioration of the spine by tilting the pelvis away from the painful position.


#4 – Knee Rolls

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Instructions:

  • Lie on your back on a mat or a firm mattress
  • Bend your knees up halfway
  • Slowly and gently, allow both knees to roll over to one side only as far as is comfortable
  • Bring your knees back to the start position, then allow them to roll over to the opposite direction
  • Repeat for 30-seconds total, don’t rush the repetitions and try to find a rhythm
  • Try to find time to do this exercise every 2-3 hours if you can

Who this back pain stretch is for:

This back pain stretch is great for relieving any tension in tight muscles in the lower back. It is also a great way to begin to regain any lost rotation in the lower back following an episode of back pain.

Why this back pain stretch works:

By gently encouraging a slow, controlled rotation of the lower back, the muscles in your lower back will realise that it is OK to relax a little. This should bring about back pain relief.


#5 – Sciatic Nerve Flossing

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Instructions:

  • Start sitting perched on the edge of a seat or bed with one leg out in front of you
  • You should perform this exercise on the LEAST PAINFUL of the two legs. Try both sides and stick with the more comfortable one
  • As you pull the toes of the extended leg up towards your head, raise your chin and look slightly up towards the ceiling (1st picture)
  • Then, drop your toes down away from you and drop your chin down at the same time (2nd picture)
  • Alternate between these two positions for 30-seconds at a time.
  • Repeat for 3 sets, spread evenly throughout the day.

Who this back pain stretch is for:

This exercise works really well for most types of back pain and it is my starting point for people suffering from a disc bulge or prolapse.

Why this back pain stretch works:

This back pain stretch provides pain relief by literally “flossing” a trapped nerve through tight spaces in the back and legs. As you pull your toes up, you put tension on the sciatic nerve; however, by also raising your chin, you can prevent this from being painful (nerves hate to be stretched). You’ll also be adding tension by dropping your chin, but relieving it again by letting your toes drop away from you.

NEVER pull your toes up and drop your chin down at the same time – this is the position that puts most tension on the nerve and will aggravate symptoms.


#6 – Seated Flexion

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Instructions:

  • Start sitting perched on the edge of a seat or bed
  • Support the weight of your body by putting your hands on your thighs
  • Gently, start to lean forward by bending the spineand letting the lower back relax
  • Slide your hands down your legs, going as far as is comfortable
  • Slowly return to the start position
  • Repeat up to 10 times in a row, trying to perform this exercise every few hours

Who this back pain stretch is for:

This exercise works really well for anyone with a facet joint problem causing their back pain. It is also good for SOME people with disc issues, but it can aggravate a disc problem so avoid this one if it isn’t comfortable. No need to go all the way down to the floor like in the final picture; going halfway will be enough for most.

Why this back pain stretch works:

This back pain stretch works in the same way as #3 where it will decompress the spine, offloading pressure on a nerve root (if arthritis is the culprit for your pain). It is also a very safe way to regain forward motion of the spine. Almost everyone should do this exercise at some point in their rehabilitation but only when it becomes non-painful.


#7 – McKenzie Side Bends

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Instructions:

  • Start standing next to a wall. Most people prefer to do this exercise with their painful side being the one FURTHEST AWAY from the wall. However, try both sides and see which one is most comfortable for you – stick with that one.
  • Use your elbow and forearm to support yourself so you are leaning on the wall (1st picture)
  • Slowly and gently, let your hips “glide” towards the wall while keeping your feet in the same position.
  • Only go as far as is comfortable, then return to the start position.
  • Repeat this 10 times, have a break, and do 3 sets total.

Who this back pain stretch is for:

This exercise works really well for disc problems and is a mainstay for a treatment approach called “McKenzie”. If you have pain in one leg or one side of the back from a disc bulge or prolapse, try this exercise.  It brings significant back pain relief to many people and can work rapidly.

Why this back pain stretch works:

The McKenzie approach claims to work by encouraging the disc material called the “nucleus pulposus” to re-centralise into it’s inner middle. Whether or not this actually occurs hasn’t been proven in scientific literature but I have seen this exercise provide relief for many. Be sure to choose the direction that is least painful when performing this back pain stretch.


#8 – Standing Extension

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Instructions:

  • Start standing normally.
  • Gently try to lean back. Only go as far as is comfortable.
  • If you feel able to, use your hands to provide support in the lower back allowing you to extend further (3rd picture)
  • Slowly return to the start position
  • Perform up to 10 repetitions, every few hours or so. Cut your set short as soon as you reach the first signs of pain.

Who this back pain stretch is for:

This is a great back pain stretch for a disc bulge as well. It works especially well for people who have trouble leaning forward and is a more user-friendly/convenient version of #2 on this list. However, I find it to be slightly less effective compared to the Cobra pose as I find people tend to rely more on pelvic rather than spinal movement with this one.

You should AVOID this exercise if you suffer from arthritis of the lower back or spinal stenosis.

Why this back pain stretch works:

This back pain stretch works in a similar way to #2 – it involves movement of the lower back, encouraging blood to flow to the injured area so disc healing can occur. This exercise may help a disc bulge to “centralise” into the disc where it can’t pinch on a nerve root.


#9 – Standing Side Bends

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Instructions:

  • Start standing normally. Try this exercise on the right and left and stick with the most comfortable one.
  • Run your right hand down your right thigh as far as is comfortable.
  • Gently return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times, up to 3 times per day.

Who this back pain stretch is for:

This back pain stretch is great for a range of causes of back pain and can help to loosen a stiff back.

You’ll probably have one side (right or left) where doing this exercise is painful, and non-painful for the other. Always stick with the non-painful side.  This exercise is a good choice for people who get pain when bending forward AND leaning back.

Why this back pain stretch works:

By relieving tension in the lower back and stretching out the muscles that run vertically along the spinal column, some can achieve effective back pain relief with this exercise. It works well for people who find that they “shift” away from their painful side and can help to reduce the pain causing this movement away from the painful side.


**More Back Pain Stretches for Back Pain Relief**

In addition to the exercises above which are superb for providing back pain relief over a period of time, there is another “family” of back pain stretches that we haven’t spoken about yet.

These are stretches for the muscles in the legs.

Stretching the muscles in the legs can be a highly effective way to achieve back pain relief. This is because, when are suffering from back pain, your mobility in the back and legs is affected (I’m sure you’ll have noticed the stiffness if you tried some of the back pain stretches above).

When we are left with poor mobility for any length of time, the muscles in the legs can shorten and become tight. This can lead to a “pulling” effect on the pelvis.

This “pulling” can place extra strain on the pelvis and cause it to “tilt” either forward or back, depending on the affected muscle group. This puts the lower back in a disadvantaged position and can lead to worsening back pain.

Luckily, the following back pain stretches, which focus on the muscles in the legs, have potential to help!

One thing you should be aware of: Some of these back pain stretches may aggravate your back, while some will make you feel much better. As with the other back pain exercises, you should discard the ones that make you feel worse at the time of performing them, or afterwards.

Makes sense? Let’s go over some of the back pain stretches that involve the muscles in the legs…

Bonus Back Pain Stretch #1 – The Gluteal Stretch

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Instructions:

  • Start sitting on the floor or a comfortable surface like a soft mat.
  • Cross one leg over the other leg
  • Using your arm as shown, reach through to the inside of your bent leg and pull your knee towards the opposite shoulder.
  • You should feel a stretch in the buttock region.
  • Hold for 30-seconds, repeating 5-6 times per day.

Who this back pain stretch is for:

This back pain stretch is great for anyone who feels back pain symptoms radiating to their buttock. It is also a great back pain stretch for people who are suffering from piriformis syndrome. However, this stretch can help people with back pain from many different causes. The gluteals (or buttocks) get very tight in people who stand with a number of different, common postures and should be stretched off regularly.

Why this back pain stretch works:

By relieving tension in the gluteals and allowing the pelvis to find its natural “balance”, the pressure on the lower back is reduced. This allows a better range of motion in the spine when you bend and twist, plus more freedom for the leg to swing when you walk. Stretching the non-painful side in this back pain stretch is a great method to avoid worsening your symptoms while still getting relief.


Bonus Back Pain Stretch #2 – The Piriformis Stretch

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Instructions:

  • Start laying on the floor or on a comfortable surface like a soft mat.
  • Bend one leg half way
  • Cross your other leg over the bent leg as shown
  • Using your arm as shown, reach through to the shin of your leg and pull both your legs towards you
  • You should feel a stretch in the buttock region
  • Hold for 30-seconds, repeating 5-6 times per day.

Who this back pain stretch is for:

This back pain stretch is very similar to the stretch I gave you as bonus #1, except the muscle that is being stretched here is slightly different to the gluteals (even though they live near to one another).

The muscle being stretched in this back pain stretch is the “Piriformis”: a small muscle that lies deep in your buttock.

It gets tight in runners and people who sit for long periods of time and needs stretching regularly.

Why this back pain stretch works:

By releasing a tight, unhappy piriformis muscle, the pelvis can work more efficiently. When the muscles in the hip region function as they were designed to, pressure is relieved from the lower back and significant back pain relief can often be felt.


Bonus Back Pain Stretch #3 – The Hip Flexor Stretch

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Instructions:

  • Start with a mat on the floor, allowing you kneel down and rest one knee on the floor.
  • Kneel in the position shown, with the other leg bent up.
  • Put your hands on your upright knee, and gently lean forward, leaving the knee of your other side behind you
  • You should start to feel a tightening of the area at the front of your hip on the kneeling side.
  • When you feel the stretch, stop and hold for 30-seconds. Repeat this 5-6 times per day.

Who this back pain stretch is for:

This back pain stretch is great for releasing tension at the front of the hip for people who sit for a long period of time or people who stand with what we call an “anterior pelvic tilt”. Someone that stands with an anterior pelvic tilt gives the appearance of a rounded lower back and a sticking-out bum. Even though this is a normal posture, it can place pressure on the joints and discs in the lower back as the hip flexors get tighter and tighter.

Why this back pain stretch works:

This back pain stretch works particularly well for those who sit a lot because it releases a tight hip flexor – which has been shown to decrease pressure on the spine.

Tight hip flexors can cause a build up of force at the back of the vertebral joints, placing unnecessary stress through the spine and leading to back pain (and in many cases, sciatica). With this back pain stretch, we are stretching both the good and the bad side. Why? Because if only one hip flexor is stretched, you’ll get an unequal pull from the right and left sides. This exercise is also unlikely to aggravate back pain (but stop it if it does).


Other than Back Pain Stretches, What Else Might Help?

There are also certain tips and products that can help individuals, alongside back pain stretches.

Here are some of my top tips:

#1 – Cut OR Increase Walking Distance (Or Take Regular Breaks)

Walking is generally good for people with back pain and has been proven in the research to be one of the best back pain exercises you can possibly do.

However, walking upright for extended periods of time can aggravate the symptoms of spinal stenosis and cause increased pain, no matter how many back pain stretches you include in your routine.

My advice: If you are suffering from spinal stenosis, try to build in regular breaks into your walks. If you know there is a bench on your usual route, make an effort to stop and sit there for a while, even if you don’t feel you need to at the time.

Another tip that can help is to make an effort to rest on your haunches by leaning forward when the spinal stenosis symptoms start. While not strictly an exercise for spinal stenosis in and of itself, this simple step can help to increase the space that the nerves sit in, allowing them to “breathe” in that space better and relieving symptoms as a result.

If you find your back pain improves when you walk, then try to build in regular walks into your routine, which will help to maintain strength and mobility.

#2 – Try a TENS Machine

Many of my patients with back pain find that a TENS machine can help to relieve their symptoms, when used alongside back pain stretches.

A TENS machine works by sending a small electrical signal into the muscles of the back, providing pain relief in many cases and loosening tight muscles.

Here is an example of a TENS machine that I commonly recommend to my clients:

You can also find an entire post I wrote showing you the best TENS machines on the market at the moment by clicking HERE.

#3 – Use a Muscle Rub

Creams for back pain can help some people to experience relief and they are handy to carry around to use when walking, if the back pain stretches can’t shift the pain.

Here is one of the creams that we recommend for people with back pain:

You can also find an entire post I wrote showing you the best TENS machines on the market at the moment by clicking HERE.

#3 – Use a Muscle Rub

Creams for back pain can help some people to experience relief and they are handy to carry around to use when walking, if the back pain stretches can’t shift the pain.

Here is one of the creams that we recommend for people with back pain:

#4 – Try to Improve Your General Health

If you’re struggling with your mobility due to back pain, one thing that might help is to address other general health issues like your weight, your diet and your general exercise.

If you’d like some tips on how to improve all of those aspects of your health, stave off injury and treat problems like arthritis, why not grab a copy of my brand new book, Thriving Beyond Fifty? You can see more details below:

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Conclusion

What did you think of these back pain stretches? Did you find any that are helpful? Let me know which one you found the best in the comments section below!

The information on Overcome Sciatica should never be used as a substitute for medical advice from a doctor. Never put into action any tips or techniques from Overcome Sciatica without checking with your doctor first. Please see full terms of use here.

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