Back Stretching Exercises

By Sally Ann Quirke, Chartered Physiotherapist | Filed under: Exercises for Back Pain


Back Stretching
The take home message for Back stretches - if it hurts, don’t do them without professional guidance.

Similar to your back strengthening exercises, stretching exercises need to be specific to each persons back problem. Back stretching exercises, when performed incorrectly or inappropriately, can result in further damage and pain to your back as well as neck pain.

Understand How Back Stetching works for our Bodies.

Back stretches are a critical part of managing - and preventing - your back pain. Similar to your back strengthening exercises, stretching exercises need to be specific to each persons back problem. Back stretching exercises, when performed incorrectly or inappropriately, can result in further damage and pain to your back as well as neck pain.

Stretching your back correctly gives us a wonderful feeling!! One of the nicest feelings that patients report to me, is when they learn the correct stretch for their tightness and pain.

Many people ask me what are the benefits of back stretches?

The answer my friends is this! Stretching:

  1. Reduces muscle tightness.
  2. Increases range of movement in joints.
  3. Improves blood circulation locally.
  4. Improves energy levels.
  5. Improves posture and movement patterns.

As we get older our muscles naturally get tighter and our joints often stiffen. As a result of this our movement patterns are altered and excess stress can be placed on joints and muscles often causing pain.

Often I hear from older people who struggle with drying their toes in the morning after a shower! All this can be helped and often prevented by regular stretching. Stretching as we get older makes life much easier!

For the younger person stretching is a huge factor in the prevention of injury - especially in sport. Each sport relies on different muscles to perform the required movement. As a result some muscles will get tight. This tightness can be the underlying cause of an injury. Understanding which muscles in your posture and sport will get tight will allow you to stretch them regularly and prevent injury. Ask a chartered Physiotherapist or physical therapist to advise you. Prevention is always better than cure.

Everyone can learn to stretch no matter how old or fit they are. Stretching should be a part of your every day routine regardless if you exercise or not! Depending on your age and lifestyle a stretching program can be anything from one done as you watch television to an intense stretching hour on the floor. An expert will guide you to a program that suits your needs.

Stretching does not have to take a lot of time if you know the important stretches for your body type. The benefits are huge!!! Get stretching!!

Stretching is required for regaining flexibility in the muscles, ligaments and joints of your spine. When a muscle gets tight it contracts and becomes shorter. This shortened muscles compresses the structures underneath and over time will result in further “dis-ease.”

Tightness in the tissues of your spine can creep up on you. Tightness usually develops gradually over time - it rarely occurs overnight!

The most common causes of tightness in the back that I see are:

  1. Soft tissue tears: If a torn tissue is not facilitated in its recovery it may heal in a shortened position. The earlier gentle stretches are started on a tear in a tissue the better. It will assist the tissue to heal more efficiently.

However, the grade of early stretches needs to be tailored specifically for each case, so seek professional advice from a chartered physiotherapist. Aggressive stretching at the early stages of healing could result in further damage.

  1. Poor posture over time: If you adopt a poor standing or sitting posture for long periods of time, then certain muscles in your back and neck will shorten and become less efficient. Left untreated, this tightness may result in other muscles becoming weak as the tightened muscles “take over“ as such.

    This combination of tight and weak muscles frequently results in breakdown of tissues in your spine, causing eventual pain and disability. It is the most common clinical finding that I see in nearly all of my patients. Early intervention could prevent this from occurring.

  2. Protective mechanisms: If you have a disc prolapse your body will automatically tighten in response to the pain. It is one of the bodies ways of preventing you from doing further harm, resulting from you moving in certain ways.

    Although these protective mechanisms can be of great help in the early days of your condition, left untreated for too long they can result in tightness and over activity becoming more permanent. This can lead to postural back pain at a later stage. Early intervention is the key. But get going with those back stretches today - and you will feel better every day!

And now - here’s some Back Stretching Exercises to get you going. Obviously the type of back stretches that you should do will depend on the type of back problem that you have. However, the following are four of the most frequently administered stretches for the back that I use on a daily basis in my Physiotherapy Practice.

If you suffer from back pain ask a chartered Physiotherapist or Physical therapist for advice before you do these stretches.
1. Back Extension stretches:

Purpose: This exercise is good for counteracting all the strain on your back from prolonged sitting and bending activities.


  • Stand tall
  • Support your lower back with both your hands and all your fingers.
  • Arch your back backwards into the support of your hands.
  • Hold for two seconds.
  • Repeat 5 times

Note:- Never move into pain and if it hurts contact a qualified therapist as it may not be suitable for your back.

2. Back rotation stretches:

Purpose: This exercise is good for stretching the muscles and ligaments of your lower sides and back.


  • Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor and feet and knees together.
  • Let both knees fall to right as far as you can without pain and while keeping your feet on the floor.
  • Slowly return your legs to the start position and repeat the exercise to the left.
  • Do five to each side slowly Note:- Your lower back will most likely come off the floor-this is ok!
3. Hamstring Stretch:

Purpose: This stretch is important as tight hamstrings are a common cause of lower back pain.


  • Lie on your back with your legs straight on the floor.
  • Bend your right knee towards your chest
  • Straighten your right leg as far as you can towards the ceiling-the aim being to have your hip,knee and ankle in a straight line.
  • Once you feel the stretch on the back of your leg hold it for 30seconds.
  • Repeat this stretch on your left leg.
  • Do three on each side.

Note: Never perform a hamstring stretch if it brings on back pain. If it does seek professional advice.

4. Lower back flexion stretch:

Purpose: This stretch is good for stretching your lower back and hips.


  • Lie on your back, knees bent up and feet flat on floor.
  • Feet and knees together.
  • Place each hand behind its corresponding knee.
  • Gently pull knees into your chest.
  • Hold for 3-5 seconds.
  • Repeat five times.

Note:- if it hurts don’t do it without professional guidance.


While the content and materials contained in the articles on this website have been written & researched by Sally Ann Quirke, a professional, practising & fully qualified Chartered Physiotherapist (Physical Therapist) based in Ireland, they are provided for general information and educational purposes only. They do not constitute medical advice on any particular individual situation. Please see your Chartered Physiotherapist or other medical practitioner for full and individual consultation.

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