Why back exercises? Starting with ...
"because I'm in pain right now."

This is going to hurt, but only a little more than now. Stretching back exercises can be done in a very safe fashion, but needs time and persistence.


Nearly all your back muscles are at the back of your spinal column, so you need to bend forwards to stretch them.

The easiest way to do this is standing or sitting¹, for low or upper back respectively, using gravity.

We use gravity in a very controlled fashion, in a step by step process.
Bend a little at a time and support your upper body weight on a bit of furniture as you wait for muscles to release at each stage.

If you are standing, keep your knees straight and you could just grab your trouser legs to support your weight.
Ensure you are square on to where your toes are pointing, with equal weight on both feet², and fingers at the same vertical level.

Note carefully where the worst pain is, as you may be able to feel it shift as you do your back stretching exercises.

You will probably find that your are doing hamstring stretching exercises (as pain in backs of thighs or behind knees) as much as low back stretches.

Wherever the pain is felt, when it eases each time bend down a little more, enough to feel the increased tension but not to produce bad pain.

It is quite reasonable to straighten up and have a rest at any time. Come up slowly and once fully upright turn gently from side to side a little, a few times.

Ideally get back to stretching and continue until eventually all pain stops.

Stretching painful muscles is generally well tolerated, better than actively using them.

In the garden, I can last a lot longer if working fully bent over, than partly bent.
Bending a little over a handbasin to clean one's teeth, is a good way to aggravate a backache.
When our back is fully bent over, the muscles are electrically silent - not contracting at all. We are then hanging on our ligaments.
Working bent over a little, we are using the sore muscles and they complain about it.

Psoas - the one muscle at the front of the spine

It's actually at the sides, but in front of the transverse processes of the vertebrae. You have to bend backwards to stretch it.

Psoas can get tight and sore, causing pain in your groin particularly. Psoas spasm aggravates pain from the back muscles as well.

If you lay with your back on a table and the very point of your spine at the table edge, you can test and stretch psoas³.

In this position, holding the other leg bent right up on your tummy, the thigh being tested should be sticking out horizontally over the edge of the table.

If Psoas is tight, your thigh will not go down to horizontal, but leave it hanging there and it will slowly sink as the muscle relaxes.

Another way to stretch psoas is to stand up and bend backwards, looking at the ceiling further and further behind you. This is a good stretch for your abdominal muscles and intercostal muscles as well.

Quadratus lumborum - out to the sides of your spine

This flat muscle is a little further out to the side than Psoas, between your last rib and the hip bone (iliac crest.) This lower attachment is where it gets sore at its outer edge.

Laying flat on your back with knees drawn up comfortably, use your trunk muscles to bend sideways at your waist and pull your hips to one side as far as you can.

Next shift your shoulders to the same side as your hips, to increase the stretch.

If this hurts on the opposite (stretched) side, hold it there until the pain eases.

You will also be stretching the back part of the External Oblique muscle of your abdominal wall, which is also between last rib and iliac crest, further out to the side.

Check your joints

You will very likely feel better after stretching.
Much back pain comes form tight sore muscles, even if the muscle tension is maintained by joint pathology.

Joint pathology is very important. I have many clients who know when they have got a joint hitched , and are relieved by having it attended to.

If you are interested in a home study course on examination of the spine, please send me your e-mail address by the contact form.

Prevention is better than cure.

Physical fitness involves flexibility and strength.

A weight training program and ab exercises are useful parts of a program of back exercises. A physiotherapist friend did his masters degree in this, showing that strengthening was more valuable than just stretching, in the long run.

Around the house, it is better to bend your knees than bend your back. Lower yourself to the task - very good for your quadriceps.

Notes and references for back exercises

1. On the neck muscle stretching page , this is described without supporting one's head and with the weight of one's arms added to that of one's head.

This is more vigorous, but still quite safe. It depends on how much pain you have, how vigorously you stretch.

2. A preliminary check for leg length is a good idea, as a higher proportion of people with back pain, have leg lengths different.

This is done by someone pushing their hands in at your waist and down on your hip bones as you stand up straight. The two sides should be level.

Any difference can be structural or because the pelvis is rotated, and needs professional assessment.
This depends on assessing the vertical height of points at the front and back of the pelvis on each side.

If you already know you have a true short leg, level up your pelvis by standing on a suitably thick book on the short side, when you do the stretching back exercises.

3. There is a good video of this at http://henrytang.wordpress.com/2010/06/15/important-muscles-involved-in-lower-back-pain-%E2%80%93-part-2-psoas/

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Your intercostals  are the muscles between your ribs you use to lift them up as you breath in.

If you are interested in a home study course on examination of the spine, please send me your e-mail address by the contact form.