Relieve a Tight Lower Back

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Symptoms of a tight lower back

Whether your lower back feels tight often or occasionally, it’s important to listen to your body and take steps to loosen tension. A tight lower back can worsen and lead to more serious problems. It can also affect your daily movements such as reaching down to pick up something from the floor.
Tightness in your lower back may be accompanied by pain, spasms, and cramping. The pain often feels like a constant, dull ache, and your back may feel stiff, tense, and contracted. You may also feel tightness in your pelvis, hips, and legs.
A tight lower back that’s caused by an over-strenuous workout or lifting something heavy will usually be felt within a few hours. It’s normal to feel some tightness or soreness after working out, but it will usually subside within a few days.
Tightness may be more likely if you’re doing a workout that you don’t normally do, or if you’re not in the best shape. As long as it peaks and subsides within a reasonable time, it shouldn’t be cause for concern.

How to improve flexibility and strength

There are lots of simple stretches and exercises you can do to improve flexibility and strength in your lower back.
Focus on lengthening and extending the spine. This helps to relieve compression in the lower back. Stretching the hamstrings is also beneficial.
In addition, you should choose exercises that focus on working the hips, core, and gluteal (buttock) muscles.
Doing daily activities such as walking, swimming, or yoga is recommended. Put forth dedicated effort into being active as often as possible. Consistently doing exercises and activities to loosen up your lower back will usually yield positive results within a few weeks.
Here are nine exercises you can add to your daily routine to help strengthen your lower back and improve flexibility.

1. Hip circles

This exercise increases flexibility, relieves tension, and helps to loosen the lower back and hip muscles. You can also engage your core muscles if comfortable.

Muscles used:
• rectus abdominis (abdominal muscles)
• erector spinae (muscles that run the length of the back)
• pelvic muscles
• gluteal muscles
1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips and your hands on your hips.
2. Start by gently moving your hips from side to side.
3. Then slowly rotate your hips in one direction, making big circles.
4. Do at least 10 circles.
5. Repeat in the opposite direction.

2. Windshield wipers

This is an accessible exercise that relieves tension and tightness in the lower back. It also stretches your hips.

Muscles used:
• erector spinae
• sacral muscles (muscles of the part of the spinal column connected to the pelvis)
• pelvic muscles
• obliques
1. Lie on your back, bend your knees, and extend your arms out to the side so they’re perpendicular to your torso. Your feet can be a little wider than your hips.
2. Exhale as you slowly drop your knees down to the right and turn to look to the left.
3. Inhale return to the starting position.
4. Continue this movement for 1 minute, alternating between the left and right sides.

3. Knees to chest

This stretch helps to loosen lower back muscles and increase flexibility while stretching and stabilizing the pelvis.

Muscles used:
• gluteus maximus
• pelvic muscles
• spinal extensors
• quadriceps
1. Lie on your back with both legs extended.
2. Draw your right knee to your chest with your fingers interlaced around your shin.
3. Hold this position for 5 seconds, and then release your leg.
4. Repeat this stretch 5 times on both legs.
5. Then draw both knees into your chest and hold your hands, arms, or elbows.
6. Hold this position for 30 seconds.

4. Reclining single-leg stretch

This stretch relaxes the lower back and stretches the hamstrings. It also helps to align the spine.

Muscles used:
• hamstrings
• gluteus maximus
• rectus abdominis
• erector spinae
1. Lie on your back with both legs extended.
2. Lift your right leg up so it’s as straight as possible, keeping a slight bend in the knee. You can bend your left knee and press into your foot for support.
3. Interlace your fingers to hold your leg behind your thigh, or use a strap or towel around the top of your foot.
4. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
5. Repeat on the left side.
6. Do 2 to 3 times on each side.

5. Pelvic tilts

This exercise strengthens your lower back and abdominal muscles. It also increases flexibility.

Muscles used:
• hamstrings
• rectus abdominis
• sacral muscles
• gluteus maximus
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent. While relaxed, your spine will have a slight curve so the base of your spine isn’t touching the floor.
2. Engage your core muscles so the base of your spine presses into the floor.
3. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax.
4. Repeat 3 times, gradually increasing to 10 repetitions.

6. Cat-Cow

This yoga pose increases flexibility of the spine and provides a nice stretch for your hips and abdomen. Pay attention to your core muscles as you engage and release them throughout the movement. If you’re feeling especially stiff or sore, you can do the movement super slowly and gently.

Muscles used:
• erector spinae
• rectus abdominis
• triceps
• gluteus maximus
1. Come into the tabletop position with your weight balanced evenly between all four points.
2. Inhale as look up and drop your belly toward the floor.
3. Exhale as you arch your back toward the ceiling.
4. Continue this movement for at least 1 minute.

7. Child’s Pose

This gentle resting yoga pose takes pressure off the lower back and relieves pain. It helps to lengthen, stretch, and align the spine.

Muscles used:
• gluteus maximus
• posterior muscles
• hamstrings
• spinal extensors
1. From a kneeling position, sit back on your heels with your knees together or slightly apart. You may place a bolster or pillow under your thighs, chest, or forehead.
2. Hinge at the hips to fold forward, extending your arms in front of you, or resting them next to your body.
3. Allow your body to fall heavy as you completely relax, letting go of tightness.
4. Hold this pose for 1 minute.

8. Legs-Up-the-Wall

This yoga pose allows you to relax your lower back and pelvis. It provides an excellent stretch for your hamstrings and helps relieve stress and tension.

Muscles used:
• hamstrings
• pelvic muscles
• lower back
• back of your neck
1. Come into a seated position with the right side of your body against a wall.
2. Lie onto your back and swing your legs up along the wall. You may place a cushion under your hips or move your hips a few inches from the wall.
3. Relax your arms in any comfortable position.
4. Focus on relaxing the lower back and releasing tension.
5. Stay in this pose for up to 2 minutes.

9. Corpse Pose

Complete your stretching routine with a few minutes of relaxation before going about your day. This gives your muscles a chance to fully relax. Focus on releasing any remaining tension and tightness in the body.
1. Lie on your back with your arms next to your body and your palms facing up.
2. Bring your feet a little wider than your hips and allow your toes to splay out to the side.
3. Breathe deeply and allow your body to soften.
4. Stay in this position for up to 20 minutes.

What can cause a tight lower back?

Sports injuries, overtraining, and accidents can cause your back to feel tight. Even everyday activities such as sitting can cause tightness.
Often you develop tightness in the lower back to compensate for an issue in another part of the body. Tight hamstrings and gluteus muscles can also contribute to this tightness. Having poor posture or using incorrect form while lifting weights or having weak core muscles can also play a part.
There are several other factors that can lead to or complicate a tight lower back. These include:
• sprains and strains
• sedentary lifestyle
• prolonged periods of sitting
• ruptured disks
• invertebrate disk degeneration
• stiff or irritated joints
• pinched nerves
• muscular dysfunction
• arthritis
• obesity
• psychological stress
• disease of the internal organs
• age-related changes of the spine

Other therapies you can try
You may wish to incorporate one or more additional treatments into your daily exercise routine.
You can use heat or ice therapy on your own on a daily basis. Consider going for a therapeutic massage or practice self-massage at home using a foam roller.
You may also consider alternative treatments such as acupuncture, chiropractic, or Rolfing. Consider physical therapy if lower back tightness has persisted for more than two weeks. Try a few approaches and see what brings you the best results.

When to see your doctor

You’ll typically see improvements within two to six weeks of doing daily exercises. You should see a doctor if:
• your pain doesn’t improve within a few weeks
• you have intense pain while doing the exercises
• the pain spreads to your legs
Also see a doctor if you experience any numbness, swelling, or severe pain. Your doctor can help to determine if any pain or tightness is being caused by an underlying condition.

Prevention tips

There are many lifestyle changes you can practice to help prevent lower back pain. Here are a few guidelines and tips:
• Adopt a balanced, healthy diet.
• Maintain a healthy weight.
• Stay active and exercise often.
• Warm up and stretch before exercise.
• Get up and move around for at least 5 minutes for each hour that you’re seated.
• When sitting, use a back support at the curve of your back.
• When sitting, keep your legs uncrossed and your ankles directly under your knees.
• Do simple leg exercises a few times per day if you’re on bed rest.
• Practice good posture.
• Wear comfortable, supportive shoes.
• Sleep on a firm mattress.
• Sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees.
• Avoid lifting heavy objects and use correct form if you must lift something.
• Quit smoking to improve blood flow and to increase the oxygen and nutrients to your spinal tissues.
• Stay hydrated.
• Avoid alcohol.
Set up your workstation so that it’s ergonomically correct. You want to have the option to sit, stand, and perform some gentle stretching while working. Set up a yoga mat or some cushions by your workstation. You may be more apt to do some gentle stretching or drop into a few yoga poses with the appropriate setup nearby. Another option is a standing desk. It’s a good idea to balance out your work time between these three options.

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