Since approximately 80 percent of Americans can expect to experience back pain at some point in their lives, it's a good idea to take proactive measures to prevent it. An increased sedentary lifestyle and use of technology (craning necks to view tiny screens) both wreak havoc with our lower backs, says Tom Holland, exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym. " When we sit in the same position, often for hours on end, both our back muscles as well as muscles that affect our lower backs become tight. Over time, this tightness can lead to dysfunction and pain."
The good news: Stretching out these muscles regularly can dramatically improve lower back health and function -- and prevent pain. Try these stretches five or more days of the week. Hold each stretch at least 20 to 30 seconds or as indicated below.
1. Knee Hug
Lie on your back and bring your knees up toward your chest; wrap your arms around your legs and gently rock back and forth.
2. Lower Back Stretch
3. Cat Stretch
All you yogis will recognize this one. Kneel on all fours on top of a yoga mat or carpet; inhale and bring your spine towards the ceiling as you round your back like a cat. Then exhale, bring your head up, and dip your back towards the floor (as if forming a letter “U” with your back). Hold briefly. Repeat for 10 to 20 repetitions.
4. Hip Flexor Stretch
Sitting for extended periods of time can lead to tight hip flexors (muscles in front of the hips), which can in turn pull on the lower back and cause tightness and pain, says Holland. To perform this stretch, start in kneeling position. Step one foot forward so that your leg is bent 90 degrees in front on you. You hands can be at your hips or stacked on your front knee. Gently push your hips forward until you feel a gentle stretch in the front of your hip. Hold 30 to 60 seconds, then switch legs.
5. Hamstring Stretch
Like the hip flexors, tight hamstrings can also pull on the back and lead to pain. To stretch them, start in standing pose with a chair in front of you. Shift your weight to one leg and put the heel of the other foot up on the chair, toes up. Gently lean forward (do not round your back!) until you feel a gentle stretch on the back of your thigh. Don’t have a chair handy? You don’t need one. Shift your weight to one leg, bring the other straight out in front of you, heel on the floor, and gently lean forward at your waist, feeling a gentle stretch on the back of the thigh. Hold 30 to 60 seconds, then switch legs.