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6 Back Stretches to Improve Spinal Mobility and Get You Moving Better

Are you getting that nagging ache in your back again? Sitting at your desk for most of the day can cause you to adjust your position every few minutes because you just can’t get comfortable.

You likely don’t have anything serious going on (you’ve been checked out by a doctor), but this on-and-off discomfort is bothersome.

poor sitting habitsAnd when you look for exercises you can do to improve your condition, more often than not, you come across movements that are simply too much for you right now.

It’s not just aches and pains that get in your way. Your back feels really tight and prevents you from doing a lot of the activities or exercises you’d like to. Seeing pictures or videos of Internet fitness superstars on your Facebook feed only reminds you of how limited you currently are.

In nearly 20 years of treating patients as a physical therapist and in working with GMB clients since 2010, I’ve seen thousands of people get out of the pattern I just described.

Yes, even if you’ve been restricted for quite some time, you can improve.

The routine I’ll share with you below is adjustable to your current abilities and needs, and daily practice will help you get unstuck so you can do the things you want to do, without restriction or discomfort.

Why is Your Back So Tight?

poor sitting habitsBack pain or tightness is not always well understood. It could be an anatomical issue or it may not.

One person may have an MRI that shows advanced arthritis in the spine, but experience no symptoms at all, while another may experience chronic pain for months or years with no abnormal imaging.

Back pain and stiffness aren’t necessarily a sign that you have bodily damage, but it’s a signal from your brain that there is something going on that it doesn’t like.

Often, these issues crop up because of your regular daily activities, such as sitting in a position that creates a habit of tightening up, or it’s simply that you sit too much and would be helped by moving around more.

Sometimes, genetics or age can be factors in your back issues, although I’d caution you against letting those prevent you from working on improving your condition. (Click here for an article about why age doesn’t have to limit you).

Whatever the cause of your tight or achy back, the following routine will help you get better. For more information on causes of these issues, see our accompanying article on the spine.

Daily Routine: Gentle Back Stretches to Help You Overcome Restrictions

The following routine contains 6 back stretches you can practice daily until your spine starts feeling and moving the way you want it to.

Don’t get too caught up in doing the stretches exactly the way Jeff looks in the video. You may have less mobility (or more) than Jeff does for certain stretches, and that’s okay. Just follow the instructions to match your current abilities. You will improve over time.


1. Prone Extension

Back stretches - prone extensionThis exercise is probably one you’ve seen before, but the important distinction here is that you make sure to modify the stretch to fit your current level.

  • From the prone position (lying on your stomach), prop yourself up on your forearms, placing your hands at a comfortable distance.
  • Scoop your chest up toward the ceiling as you squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  • The motion should be happening primarily in your upper and mid back. If you have too much motion happening in the low back, this will cause unnecessary strain. Just move your hands slightly forward until you find a comfortable distance.
  • If you are able to do this stretch with no problem, you can work on straightening your elbows to extend the back further. Eventually, you may end up with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your elbows completely straight (but don’t rush into it!).

Move in and out of the stretch 10 times, then hold for 30-60 seconds. Repeat 3 times.

2. Wag Tail

Back stretches - wag tailYou likely haven’t practiced this particular exercise before (it’s not a standard exercise in most stretching programs), but it’s very effective for targeting sidebending action, and it’s a lot of fun.

  • Start on hands and knees, with your knees together and past your hips.
  • Lift your feet off of the ground and swing them to the right and then to the left.
  • Keep your back flat throughout the movement, so that the motion is primarily a sidebending motion.

For this exercise, you won’t be doing any holds. Just do 10 reps per side.

3. Quadruped Sidebend

Back stretches - quadruped sidebendThis is another great stretch for sidebending, that targets your lattisimus dorsi, quadratus lumborum, and spinal erectors. It’s a simple stretch, but it packs a big punch!

  • Start in kneeling, with your hands stretched in front of you. If you have tight quads that prevent you from getting into the deep kneeling position you see Jeff in, just go as far as you can go comfortably.
  • Move your hands to one side so they are at a 45-degree angle (or more) to your body. You should feel a good stretch in this position.

Move in and out of the stretch 10 times, then hold for 30-60 seconds. Repeat 3 times, then switch to the opposite side.

4. Quadruped Torso Rotation

Back stretches - quadruped torso rotationThis stretch will help you work on rotation in the spine, which is a limiting factor for a lot of people.

  • Start on your hands and knees, so that your elbows are directly beneath your shoulders and your knees directly beneath your hips.
  • Then shift one forearm so that it is directly below the midline of your chest and place the other hand on your low back.
  • Rotate your body toward that elbow, looking up toward the ceiling as you do. Press down into the ground with your supporting elbow to keep the rest of your body stable.

Move in and out of the stretch 10 times, then hold for 30-60 seconds. Repeat 3 times, then switch to the opposite side.

5. Half Pancake

Back stretches - half pancakeThis is a favorite exercise from our Focused Flexibility program because it combines sidebending and rotation, which is something not many stretches can do alone.

  • Start in a half pancake position, with one leg stretched out to the side and one bent in to your body. Feel free to bend the knee on the outstretched leg to make this position more comfortable for yourself.
  • Rotate your torso toward the bent knee, then reach up over your head toward the foot of the outstretched leg.
  • Only go as deep as you can without feeling any painful discomfort.

For the half pancake, get into position and then hold for 30-60 seconds, then switch to the opposite side.

6. A-Frame to Squat

Back stretches - a-frame to squatThis exercise will help you work on extension through the spine, and movement into the squat. There are many modifications you can make to this exercise, depending on where you’re starting from.

  • Start in an A-Frame position (also known as “downward dog” in yoga). This is where you will start on your hands and knees, and then push your butt up into the air, forming an “A” position. If you can’t straighten your legs all the way in this position, don’t worry. Focus on pushing through your hands so that you flatten out your back as much as possible.
  • Walk your feet forward and drop down into a squat. Try to keep your hands on the ground if you can. If not, don’t worry too much. Just play with your weight distribution and don’t force anything that feels uncomfortable.
  • Return to the A-Frame position.

Hold the A-Frame for 10 seconds, then transition into the squat and hold that for another 10 seconds. Repeat this 10 times.

Get Your Body Moving and Feeling Better

hands touch feet with back twistIf you’ve read this far and tried out the exercises in this routine, I’m guessing you’ve been dealing with some discomfort or restriction in your spine for a while.

I know how hard that is–I’ve dealt with back pain myself–and I think you’ll find these daily back stretches to be helpful.

More often than not with patients experiencing restrictions in their backs, there are issues going on in other areas of the body as well. You may know this to be true from your own history.

That’s why we made our Body Maintenance Guide, to help you address the most common restrictions in your body.


Free Your Body From Pains and Restrictions

You want to use your body without being held back by pains and tight spots. Use our Body Maintenance Guide to fix your issues and get back to doing what you love.

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