Exercises to Relieve Lower back
If your lower back has been feeling insanely tight, listen up. Back issues plague couch potatoes, walkers and marathoners alike — largely because most of us spend our days sitting. “Working out for one to two hours cannot undo all the damage that is done during an eight-hour workday at a seated work station, ” says physical therapist Emily Ohlin, P.T., a board-certified sports specialist at Kinetic Integration in Portland, Oregon.
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Sitting for any longer than 20 minutes causes muscles throughout the body, such as the hip flexors and hamstrings, to shorten, Ohlin says. And they don’t immediately lengthen back out again as soon as you walk into the gym, she explains. These tight muscles can throw off your posture and form during exercise, contributing to overuse of the lower back muscles.
“When we walk, run or squat, there is a good chance that our body will make up for the lack of extension in those areas by overextending from the low back, ” says exercise physiologist and licensed massage practitioner Nikki Naab-Levy at Indigo Kenetics in Seattle. “This can be why healthy people experience low back pain during or after physical activity.” What’s more, if you’re constantly hunched over at the computer, the stress on your back muscles can throw things even further out of whack.
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The solution: Loosening things up. “Stretching strategically can minimize the negative effects of sitting and help maintain or even improve overall mobility, ” Naab-Levy says. “Since tight hip flexors, short calves and stiff mid backs are some of the biggest culprits in general low back pain and tension, consciously opening these areas can reduce tension and stress to the low back.”
Try these five stretches from Naab-Levy to help relieve, and possibly even prevent, lower back tension due to tight muscles.
5 Lower Back Stretches You’ve Got to Try
1. Assisted Figure 4 Stretch
Get in this position to zero in on your hips, which can become locked after both sitting and long periods of use, like when you’re squatting or running.
How to: Lie on your back, feet planted so knees are at a 90-degree angle, with a rolled up towel under your hips (a). Cross your right ankle over your left knee and flex your right foot (b). Bring both legs in toward your body and pause when your legs are lined up directly over your hips (c). Keeping your head on the ground, thread your hands through your leg to grab behind your left thigh (d). Gently, extend your pubic bone toward your feet and pause when your lower back is just slightly curved. Your ribs should stay heavy on the ground (e). Breathe gently and hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
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2. Standing Hip-Flexor Stretch
This move targets the hip flexors and abdominal muscles, which can become shortened from sitting or from exercises like cycling and running.
How to: Stand to the side of a wall or chair with the left side of your body facing the chair (a). Step your right leg back, keeping the right heel off of the ground. Gently tuck your pelvis so that the curve in your lower back flattens and your pubic bone pushes forward (b). Then, place your left hand on the wall or chair and reach your right arm overhead (c). Bend to the left and pause when you feel a stretch through your right abdominal muscles and your right hip flexor. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat on the opposite side.
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3. Tail Wags
Improve mobility in your mid back with this easy exercise you can do to loosen up your body. Better mid back mobility means your low back won’t have to work as hard when you’re doing things like walking or strength training.