Click here for a free recording of my webinar on hip vs. lower back pain! How to tell the difference and what to do about it!

Is stretching my lower back bad? 

The short answer is no! Stretching not only lengthens your muscle but it also moves your joints through ranges they are built to move through. However, there are two main reasons why your back may hurt after stretching.

  1. You went too far too fast. The key with stretching your lower back is to listen to your body. When you stretch, you want go right up to the point of feeling the stretch but no further. More isn’t better. When I work with my patients on stretching, I always let them know that they are in charge. I can only tell them where they may feel the stretch, but not how intense the stretch in their back muscles should feel. I have never had a stretch make someone worse for that reason. We need to use what you feel as a guide as we learn how to move your body. Stretching and mobility exercises are important. What is great is that they  usually only take a couple minutes to complete. It feels so good to stretch your lower back, but learning how is important. Check out a past video on stretching!
  2. The intent of the stretch doesn’t match what is actually happening. This is important! There is a lot of information out there (and it can be easy to have the best intentions) but the execution may be off. I always recommend learning how to move your body correctly. You can do this by consulting a professional such as a physical therapist, personal trainer, or chiropractor. I recommend someone who has spent time moving their body to learn from. They may even be able to come to your home! 

Why is your your back stiff?

Lower back stiffness can be very annoying. Especially stiffness in the morning! Who likes starting their day with a good dose of stiffness in their lower back? Usually, I want to say always, stiffness increases as we get older. The good news is that you can fix back stiffness quickly! It’s a fact that our joints degrade over time. Degeneration of your lower back is very common. This is true for our entire body. In fact, if you are over 30 years old, the chances you have some signs of degeneration is 50%. The good news is that arthritis is just like the wrinkles on our skin.

Degeneration in your back
Degeneration and Time

Present but not always painful. Arthritis doesn’t have to be painful! It’s crazy to think but remember seeing that older adult walking hunched over? I guarantee if you ask them if they have pain, they will mostly likely say no! Lower back stiffness is there but it’s what you do with it that matters! Movement is key when treating stiffness your lower back. What doesn’t help is how much we sit. Sitting is the new smoking and there is plenty of evidence to say that the more we sit, the sooner we die. Walking and overall mobility a huge role on how you feel! Lower back stiffness almost always feels better after you move.

When I treat lower back stiffness, which is with nearly every patient, it all starts with movement. First we have to understand why you may have stiffness so we can develop the best way to treat lower back stiffness.

The top 3 reasons why your lower back is stiff:

 1. You sit way too much! It’s recommended you get so many steps in a day for a reason.

2. You don’t change positions as often as you should.

3. You have inflammation in your joints, also known as arthritis.

You can improve all of these! It just takes some motivation and commitment. Not only will you feel better but you will live longer.

Arthritis or osteoarthritis isn't scary once you have a better understanding of what is going on. Lower back arthritis is progressive changes of your joints over time that can be seen and measured on X-rays and other images. It can also be felt. It can be painful and stiff but more often than not, isn’t. Stiffness in your lower back can vary by the day and what you do, but does the level of arthritis in your joints change that quickly? On your good days, you have the same level of arthritis you do during your bad days or painful movements. Crazy right! That’s that makes treatment fun but sometimes tricky. Treating lower back stiffness is best treated by looking at how you move, not by what your picture shows. Stretching your lower back is very beneficial and safe.

What’s the best way to stretch your lower back?

How do you safely stretch your tight or stiff lower back? Here are my top 3 safe stretches for lower back pain and stiffness.

  1. Standing Prayer Stretch
  2. Quadruped Rotation
  3. Prayer stretch with posterior pelvic tilt

Disclaimer. You need to make sure you are okay to exercise and move your body.

Standing Prayer Stretch

Standing prayer stretch
Standing prayer stretch

This is probably my favorite most effective upper back and lower back stretch since it can be done anywhere and you don’t have to get on the ground! It works into the stiffness but allows you to control how much you feel it! It stretches so much in your back.

1. Stand at your counter or next to something tall and sturdy.

2. Put your arms on the stable surface and step backwards allowing you to bend over with your head between your arms. Try to poke your butt out.

3. Slightly bend your knees and sink you chest and head between your arms.

4. You should feel this in your upper back and lower back. You may also feel this stretch in the back of your legs. Really everything is fair game if you are really stiff! Personally I feel it in my upper back, side of my arms, and sometimes in the back of my legs when I do this stretch.

A good place to start would be 5 for a 10-15 second hold.

Quadruped Rotation with Thread the Needle

Quadruped rotation with thread the needle
Quadruped rotation with thread the needle

Thread the needle
Thread the needle

This is done on your hands and knees. If you can’t put pressure on your knees try a pillow under them. If that still doesn’t work then don’t worry about it. Don’t force your body to do something.

1. On your hands and knees with your knees under your hips and hands under your shoulders. Then lift one arm and rotate towards the sky turning your head while you are rotating. You will feel this in your upper back and you will feel that your stabilizing arm is working.

2. Further isn’t better. Just work into your back stiffness and then come back down. As you come back down make sure you are controlled.

3. On your way down reach underneath the other arm towards the other direction. You should feel this in your upper back. Don’t let the stabilizing arm bend as you do this.

Tip: When you get to the top, breath out. You will feel more of the stretch.

Try 5 or so on each side

Prayer Stretch or Child’s Pose with Posterior Pelvic Tilt

Prayer stretch or Child's pose
Prayer Stretch or Child’s Pose with Posterior Pelvic Tilt Starting position
Prayer Stretch or Child's Pose with Posterior Pelvic Tilt End of Range
Prayer Stretch or Child's Pose with Posterior Pelvic Tilt End of Range

Okay this is the go to lower back stretch that most love. You will be on your hands and knees again.

1. You will have your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips.

2. You will tuck your pelvis or contract your abs. As you do this you will feel that you are tucking your hips underneath you.

3. Hold that tuck and sit down towards your heels. You will feel this in your lower back.

I like to start with 5 for a 15 sec hold.


For some, they don’t have enough hip range of motion or have knee stiffness that stops them from doing this. If that is you, just stop where you feel a good stretch, no further. Every body is different and that is okay.

Is stretching your lower back bad?

No, but learning how to stretch your lower back and what it should feel like is important. If your back hurts after stretching then you are more likely to give up on stretching too early.

Check out this video to take a peek at what stretching should feel like when you are stiff and achy.

Why is your lower back stiff and achy? Maybe a few reasons such as age, arthritis, or your activity levels. In reality, it really doesn’t matter because you can feel better right away!  

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Dr. Michael Derry is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and board certified in orthopedics. He is very passionate about treating lower back pain and helping people build their resiliency. He has spent time assisting at universities as well as managing large clinics before starting his own practice in Jacksonville, FL.

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