It’s no secret that your back is one of the tougher areas of the body to stretch. It can be hard to decipher between a proper stretch and a pull and sometimes you can actually end up straining your upper or lower back.
In order to keep your spine healthy and prevent injury, it’s imperative that you learn the proper techniques to stretch out the muscles in your back. After all, we use our spine and back muscles every day for pretty much every activity, and a healthy spine means good health overall.
We’ve put together some step-by-step instructions below for 5 stretches that are great for you back.
The cat/cow stretch is great for your back and for stretching out the area around your shoulder blades, an often-tough area to stretch. It involves both flexion (rounding of the spine) and extension (arching of the spine).
This stretch is beneficial in preventing back pain, especially for those who sit for long period of time. It also stretches the hips and abdominal muscles as well as improves balance.
Start on all fours with a neutral spine – meaning the is no bend in your spine. Look straight ahead as you slowly inhale to extension coming into to cat pose. Push your chest to the floor and lift your sit bones high and away from your hips. Roll your shoulder back and lift away from your chest as high as you can. Lift your head to the ceiling and look up. Your head should follow your spine.
Slowly exhale now as you round your spine and transition into flexion coming into cat pose. Roll your pelvic bone forward and you reach your upper back up and away from your shoulders. Let your head go loose to the floor but do NOT push your chin to your chest. You should feel a significant stretch along your shoulder blades.
Go back and forth matching your breaths to you movements for 5-10 reps. End back in a neutral pose. Remember to keep your head and neck loose and in line with your spine UNLESS you have a neck injury. If so, keep your head and neck straight and inline with your torso. This is a great stretch before bed to loosen the tension of the day.
For more on Cat/Cow stretches and tips on back exercises, check out our blog on Maintaining Proper Posture.
2) Lower Back Rotation
This is a great back stretch for those of us who sit for long periods of the day as it can be done at the office from a seated position.
Sit on a straight, armless chair with your feet flat on the floor. Your butt should be right at the back of the chair and your back should run straight up along the back of the chair. Your knees should come out about two inches from the seat of the chair.
Twist your back so that your shoulders come across your body to one side. Maintain the same level with your shoulders, meaning do not lift one side higher than the other or drop down the shoulder you are twisting into. Check to make sure that both shoulders are level with one another.
You can use the seat of the chair for support to give you a deeper stretch. You should feel this stretch along the lower part of your back reaching up to your shoulders and upper back. Hold for 20 seconds on each side for three reps. Breathe normally.
3) Cross-Leg Spinal Twist
Another great stretch for your back is the cross-leg spinal twist. This stretch will loosen up the lower back as well as the shoulders and chest.
This is a popular post-workout stretch, but one that is often down incorrectly.
Lie on your back with knees your bent and your feet on the floor, arms out to the sides with your palms facing the floor. Cross your left leg over your right as if you were sitting in a chair and slowly start to lower your legs to your right as far as you can take them.
The important thing to keep in mind with this stretch (and the most common mistake people make) is, don’t take your lower back off the floor! Your knees may not reach the floor beside you and your left shoulder may lift slightly off the floor but that is ok. Keep your lower back on the floor at all times and your chest open to the ceiling to get the proper stretch.
Continue breathing normally throughout the whole stretch – do not hold your breath. With your knees pushed to the right, slowly lift your left arm along the floor about halfway to your head and rotate your palm of your left hand outward. This will open up the chest and complete the rotation in the back.
Switch sides and do two reps on each side. This is a great stretch for your back after a workout or an extended period of activity. It’s also a great stretch for first thing in the morning to open up the spine and prepare it for motion.
4) Squat Stretch
The squat stretch is a great stretch for your back and your thighs… and you’ll even get a bit of a workout in your glutes!
Start with your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width and your feet turned outward at no more than 45 degrees. Engage your glutes and ab muscles as you bend your knees and lower your sit bones to the floor, much like a squat.
Keep your knees over your toes and your thighs parallel to the floor. Do NOT come down too low or not low enough. Check to make sure your legs make a 90-degree angle. Place your hands on your knees and tuck your sit bones under – to do this, imagine you are trying to stop a urine flow and engage your pelvic muscles. Twist your shoulders to the right as much as possible as you push down on your knee with your left hand.
Switch sides and repeat for 5-10 reps. Breathe normally throughout.
5) Mermaid Stretch
The mermaid stretch is great for your back and the muscles along your sides.
Sit on the floor with your knees underneath you and to the left, just like a mermaid would sit. Hold onto your ankles with your left hand and reach your right arm straight up and over your head to the left.
Exhale as you feel the stretch along the right side of your torso and along the middle of your back. Hold for about 30 seconds or until you feel your muscles release and then switch sides. Repeat for three reps.
Remember to keep your shoulders relaxed and level and do not strain your neck. Keep your head loose. It’s a good idea to do this stretch in front of a mirror to make sure your shoulders are level. If the shoulder or the outstretched arm raises up you will lose the stretch in your back and will feel a pinch in your shoulder.
Through daily practice, these stretches will help keep your back and spine healthy and loose and will help you in your daily activities and help prevent injury!
If you’re experiencing recurring back pain that is not aided with daily stretching, it might be time to see a chiropractor! Even small strains can turn into big problems if left untreated.