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5 Stretches to Loosen Your Hamstrings and Relieve Lower Back Pain

You probably already have a plan in place for what to do when your lower back is bothering you, but there may be something else you can try: stretching your legs. While there are many causes of low back pain, research shows that having tight hamstrings—the muscle at the back of the thigh—is linked with lower back pain. One study that compared people with chronic lower back pain to people without it noted that the subjects with pain had tighter hamstrings than those who didn’t. Tight muscles can put unnecessary pressure on your back.

Having flexible hamstrings means your pelvis and spine can move more easily, which helps fend off tight back muscles. If your doctor has cleared you for exercise, try these five stretches from Sarra Morton, a yoga instructor and the group fitness manager at Equinox Flatiron in New York City, to your routine.

1. Supine hamstring stretch: Lie on your back. Extend one leg up in the air, with the other resting on the ground, foot flexed. Take a yoga strap or towel, and wrap it around the foot in the air. Gently pull your foot toward you, trying to keep your toes in line. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute; switch sides.

2. Rag doll: Stand with your feet hips-width apart. With your feet slightly bent, fold forward at the hips and hold on loosely to opposite elbows. Let the weight of your upper body pull your hamstrings open. Shift your weight slightly forward, so you’re resting on the fronts of your feet instead of your heels. Keep your toes relaxed. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

3. Forward fold: Start seated, either sitting flat on the floor or on a blanket, with your legs stretched out in front of you. Extend your arms straight up to the ceiling. Keeping your back as flat as possible, reach for your feet. Flex them, so the backs of your knees press toward the floor as your upper back and arms soften forward. Can’t reach your feet? Loop a towel or yoga strap around the front of your feet, holding onto each side. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

4. Standing hamstring stretch: Place one foot on a box, table, or chair, making sure that your leg is straight (your standing leg can bend slightly). Keep your hips square and toes flexed as you reach toward your knee or foot with both hands. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute; switch sides.

5. Half-splits: Start in a low lunge, with your hands on both sides of your front foot. Drop your back knee so it rests on the floor, and straighten the front leg. Flex your toes and fold over your front leg. Reach your hands toward your shin or foot. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute; switch sides.

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