Stretches For Reducing Back Pain and Stiffness


Raise your hand if you spent hours this weekend shoveling snow, but are still nowhere close to being able to safely and easily get out of your neighborhood? My back is killing me. My husband’s back is killing him. I did not ask directly, but I would bet good money that my mom and dad are both suffering from killer back pain too. I am guessing every client who is able to make it to my studio for their massages this week will have the same complaint: sore, tired backs from too much snow shoveling.

I recommend we all do some nice, gentle stretching to open up our hips and backs, and release any tension that may be causing pain and stiffness in our necks and shoulders as well.

Here are a few stretches for your snow day self care. Do them slowly and gently, staying within your own comfort zone.

Be safe out there on slick sidewalks and slushy roads!

Seated Knee Flexor Stretch

Seated flexor stretch

Sit with legs extended and ankles touching, or as close to touching as possible. Keeping your feet relaxed (no need to actively point or flex your feet here), place your hands on the floor next to your thighs to start. Slowly bend at the waist and gently lower your head toward your legs, trying to keep your knees straight if possible. A slight knee bend is fine if needed. As you bend forward, slide your hands toward your feet along the floor, as far as you can comfortably stretch. You will feel this stretch on the underside of your legs, through your hamstrings and into your pelvic region and across the lower back.

Seated Lower-Trunk Extensor Stretch

seated lower trunk extensor

Sit in a chair with legs separated about hip width with your arms at your sides. Rounding the upper back, slowly begin to lean forward, bending at the waist and lowering your head and abdomen between your legs. Try to bring your head below your thighs, while keeping your butt planted on your chair. This one can be a little tough to do if you are short like me. Try sitting forward a bit on the chair (though not so much that the chair will tip forward as you bend). Pull your abs in as you bend at the waist to support your back and focus on directing your hands down toward the floor on the outside of your legs. You might not be able to touch the floor or get your head all the way down below your knees. That is fine. Bend as far as feels comfortable with a bit of a stretch through your lower back. Let your head hang loose. Do not tighten your neck as you bend.

Hip and Back Extensor Stretch

hip and back extensor stretch

Lie comfortably on your back. Bend your right knee and grasping the underside of the knee with both hands, pull the knee back toward your chest. Keep your opposite leg as flat on the ground as possible as you continue to pull your knee down toward your chest as far as comfortably possible. Repeat on opposite leg.

Hip Adductor and Extensor Stretch

Hip abductor stretch

Sit comfortably on the floor with your legs extended and your feet as far apart from each other as possible to create a wide V shape with your legs. Keeping your knees as straight and flat against the floor as you can, bend forward at the waist and slide your hands forward along your legs toward your feet. You want to keep your trunk in a straight line as you bend your body forward between your knees.

Back and Shoulder Stretch

back stretch

Stand with feet firmly planted, pointing straight forward and shoulder-width apart. Wrap your arms around your shoulders as if hugging yourself. Your hold should be snug. You want to get your fingertips as close to the inside edge of your shoulder blade as comfortably possible. Once in that position, grasp your back firmly with your hands and fingertips and pull your shoulders forward. You do not need to pull hard with your hands, but rather think about pulling forward from your elbows, as if a string were attached to your elbows, and use your hands to keep a firm grip on your upper back so that your shoulders and back stretch as you pull. This should not be a very intense stretch and thus is a good first stretch for the upper back and shoulders to warm up and begin to loosen those tight muscles.

Shoulder Adductor and Extensor Stretch

shoulder stretch

Line up with the edge of a doorway so that your right hand will be grasping the left side doorjamb. Squat down and grasp the inside of the doorjamb with your right hand, level with your shoulder. Keeping your arm straight and your feet firmly planted and together, slowly lower your butt toward the floor, increasing the stretch on your right shoulder and back. Repeat on the opposite arm. Do not bend forward at the waist as you lower. You do not want to whack your face against the wall.

Neck Extensor Stretch

Neck stretch

Sit or stand comfortably with back straight. Interlock your fingers behind your head. Your hands should be placed on the skull above the bony ridge, but below the top of your head. you do not want your hands on the back of your neck. Gently pull your head straight down, bringing your chin toward your chest. This is a gentle stretch that you should feel across the top of your back, between your shoulder blades and up into your neck. Do not strain or tighten the front of your neck as you pull.


{Images from Stretching Anatomy; Second Edition. Nelson, Arnold G. & Kokkonen, Jouko.}






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