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September 17, 2020

6 back stretches to ease pain and discomfort


You don’t want to mess with your back.

Maybe you’ve clocked more hours on the couch than you’d like to admit this year. Or perhaps you spend too much time hunched over the computer. Or, maybe it’s a long-term problem that you just haven’t had time to address. Back pain can be (or get) very serious. The good news is that you can find relief with back stretch exercises. 

Incorporating back stretch exercises into your daily routine

These are crazy times we’re living in. Still, it’s important to practice self-care daily. Establishing a good morning routine to help prevent further discomfort is ideal for many reasons. Besides feeling great (especially on those days when you just slept “wrong”) and waking up your muscles, stretching in the morning can give you a nice boost of energy. 

But, any time of day is better than nothing. So don’t sweat it or feel discouraged if mornings don’t work out. Even if it’s thrown in between your next zoom call and preparing lunch, set your intention and make it happen. 

Back stretch exercises for your upper, middle, and lower back

All of these back stretch exercises can be easily performed at home and don’t require any special equipment. And, since these stretches don’t require tons of space, you’ll be just fine if you’re living in close quarters. 

As with any type of physical activity, it is important to remember to breathe with each movement. Activate your core by expanding your belly as you breathe in. On the exhale, bring your navel in towards your spine. It’s really easy to forget this part and hold your breath instead. Be present as you move so that doesn’t happen. These back stretch exercises can all be done independently, but more customized programs or even streaming services are available for additional inspiration, support, and accountability.

Stretch name: Cobra
Targets: Lower back pain

You may have seen this one in a hatha yoga class. Besides giving your back and spine a great stretch, cobra is one of the best lower back stretch exercises for building strength. Begin by laying on your stomach with your legs stretched behind you. Next, place your palms on the ground, making sure they’re in line with your shoulders but in front of your chest. As you press lightly through your palms, lift your chest and shoulders from the ground. Hold for a few seconds, and then lower down. Make sure you’re actively engaging your back to lift your chest up, and aim for at least 10 reps.

Stretch name: Glute Bridge
Targets: Lower back pain

This is like a 2-for-1 because as the name implies, this stretch works your back and your glutes. Begin by lying face up with your knees bent. Your feet should be flat on the floor and arms by your side. As you lift your hips, squeeze your glutes. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Pause for a few seconds at the top, then lower back down. Try to do 10 reps.

Stretch name: Passive Backbend
Targets: Middle back pain

A passive backbend stretch is really nice at the end of the day because it forces you to just unwind. Start by rolling up a towel or yoga mat and lay it down horizontally. Get yourself into position by laying down on your back with your shoulder blades across the towel for support. The next part is easy. Just relax into the stretch for a few minutes and you’re done. For an even deeper stretch, try this with a yoga bolster.

Stretch name: Child’s Pose
Targets: Middle back pain

Getting in touch with his inner child

This classic yoga pose is great for all types of back pain, but is especially beneficial if it’s your mid-back that’s hurting. Begin with your hands and knees on the floor, with your knees a little wider than hip-width. Bend your knees and push your hips back, continuing to stretch back as low as you can until your hamstrings are resting on or between your calves. Simultaneously, straighten your arms in front of you. Hold for 60 seconds, relaxing into the stretch.

Stretch name: Thoracic Stretch
Targets: Upper back pain

You’ll need use of a countertop or the back of a sturdy chair for support. Begin by placing your hands on the supportive surface you’ve selected. Walk backward, lowering your chest to the ground. Make sure you’re standing a reach distance away. Your hips should move behind your ankles and legs should be straight. Next, relax your thigh muscles and gently lift your tailbone. Hold your arms in place, armpits toward the floor. Relax into the stretch for at least 30 seconds.

Stretch name: Rotating Chair
Targets: Upper back pain

If you sit at a desk all day, there’s no excuse for skipping this one. Begin by sitting on the edge of your chair. Place both hands on the back of the head, making sure to sit up straight so your shoulders are directly over your hips. Keep your feet planted and twist your torso to the left. From the waist up, your body should be facing your left. From the waist down, it should remain in the seated position. Hold the stretch for at least 10 seconds, then alternate sides.

The bottom line

The spine is one of the most important parts of your body. Among its many responsibilities, it gives your body structure and allows your body to move. Dedicating time each day for stretching can be extremely beneficial both for pain relief and your overall well-being. But it’s also important to recognize when it’s time to get checked out by a medical professional. 

The most obvious sign is consistent pain that doesn’t go away or at the very least, improve with back stretch exercises. If you experience things like shooting pain down your legs or tingling or numbness anywhere in the body, give your doctor a call. Your symptoms may be connected to a more serious issue.