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14 Stretches to Relieve Lower Back and Hip Pain

In this article

  • Introduction
  • Relationship between hip and lower back pain
  • Common Causes of Lower Back and Hip Pain
  • Type of Back Pain: Extension vs. Flexion
  • 14 Stretches for Lower back and Hip Pain
  • Treatment

Introduction

If you are experiencing low back pain, you’re not alone. About 85% of working adults have experienced some sort of lower back pain.


In this article, we explain the relationship between your lower back pain and hip pain, identify possible causes of your back pain, and show you stretches for lower back and hip pain.

Relationship between hip and lower back pain

Your lower back and hips are interdependent structures that share many groups of muscles. A problem in one can cause dysfunction and pain in the other.


The psoas major (one of the hip flexors) is a large muscle whose function is to connect the upper body to the lower body, the outside to the inside, the appendicular to the axial skeleton, and the front to the back. It originates from the lower back (lumbar spine) through the groin and joins with another muscle (illsoas) that attaches to the femur (hip bone).


The Quadriceps (thigh muscle) is often hypertonic (increased muscle tone with lack of flexibility), due to running, excessive sitting, and leg length discrepancies. This hypertonicity pulls the low back vertebrae forward, creating an increased curvature. As a result, the thoracic spine (upper back) and hips can’t move the way they should, and the low back compensates by doing the work for them, which causes lower back pain.


The above hip flexor muscles (iliopsoas & quadriceps) are located in the front and to the sides of the lower back, and connect the lower back to the hip and the hip to the knee. Tight hip flexors compress the lower back and can weaken the gluteal muscles (which stabilize the knee, hips, low back and pelvis), resulting in overworked hamstrings and lower back muscles, which ultimately causes low back pain with or without accompanied knee pain.

Common Causes of Lower Back and Hip Pain

If you’re experiencing back and hip pain, it is recommended that you seek physiotherapy services for a proper diagnosis of your pain.


  • Sprains: Ligament in your back is overstretched, inflamed or torn
  • Strains: Tendon or muscle in your back is overstretched, inflamed or torn
  • Pinched Nerve: Pressure applied to a nerve by surrounding bones, muscles, or tissues and interrupts proper nerve function
  • Fibromyalgia: Chronic condition causing pain and tenderness throughout the body
  • Spinal stenosis: Spinal canal narrows over time, putting pressure on nerves of the spine
  • Spondylolisthesis: Caused by a stress fracture in one of the bones of the spine and causes part of the spine to move out of position
  • Nerve Damage: Conditions or injuries that damage the nerves in the back or the nerves that carry signals to the back
  • Stress and Anxiety: Unconscious tensing of muscles
  • Tight Hip Flexors: Increased tension in this muscle complex is often due to remaining in a seated position for too long
  • A Herniated Disc: The inner part of the disc (cushion like structure) migrates outwards due to weakness in its surrounding structure, putting pressure on the joint space or nearby nerve
  • Sacroiliac (SI) Joint Dysfunction: Joints connecting the lower portion of the spine to the pelvis move too much or too little
  • Arthritis: Breakdown of the protective cartilage of the spine causing the spinal bones to rub together and place greater pressure on the nerves in the lower back and hip
  • Ankylosing spondylitis: Form of arthritis causing chronic inflammation in the spinal joints

Type of Back Pain: Extension vs. Flexion

There are many different forms of back pain. For simplicity, we have divided back pain into two categories based on preferred and natural movements. Which of the following describes you?

Extension Responders

Surgery may not be needed if physiotherapy helps you eliminate pain or heal from an injury. Even if surgery is required, you may benefit from pre-surgery physiotherapy. You’ll have a faster post-surgery recovery by going into a surgery stronger and in better shape.

Symptoms

  • Increase pain with sitting and bending
  • Reduced pain with standing, walking, bending backward or increasing the arch in your back
  • Worst pain first thing in the morning

Extension responders who experience low back pain, are likely accompanied by sciatica (pain that starts in the low back and travels down the leg, or pain present in the leg) that worsens with sitting and bending. Sudden and abrupt movements, like coughing and sneezing, can increase the pain.


Exercises for Extension Responders
Sloppy Push-Up
  • Lie down on your stomach in push up position (toes untucked)
  • Inhale
  • Exhale while pressing upper body off the floor while driving hips towards the floor
Standing Lumbar Extensions
  • Stand with feet just greater than shoulder width apart
  • Place hands in the small of the back
  • Bend backwards as far as possible
  • Return to a neutral position
Hip Flexor stretch
  • Step forward with right leg into a staggered stance
  • Tilt pelvis posteriorly and brace abdominals
  • Lower into a lunge (untuck toes)

Flexion Responders

Surgery may not be needed if physiotherapy helps you eliminate pain or heal from an injury. Even if surgery is required, you may benefit from pre-surgery physiotherapy. You’ll have a faster post-surgery recovery by going into a surgery stronger and in better shape.

Symptoms

  • Increased pain with standing and walking
  • Improved pain with sitting, rounding back and bending forward
  • Radiating pain in one leg or both legs (tingling, numbness, weakness)

There are many reasons why you may be feeling pain when standing or walking. The explanation may be as simple as a strained muscle in the low back but may be as complex as degeneration in the spine, causing a narrowing of the spinal canal (a condition known as spinal stenosis).


3 Exercises for Flexion Responders
Double Knee-to-Chest Stretch
  • Lie down on your back
  • Hug both knees in towards the chest
Seated Forward Bend
  • Sit on the floor with straight legs in front
  • Bend forward, reaching your hands behind your legs
Cycling
  • Use a recumbent bike or spin cycle
  • Slowly increase the duration
  • Pedal at your desired intensity level
  • Adjust seat position if any symptoms increase

14 Stretches for Lower back and Hip Pain

If you’re experiencing back and hip pain, the following are excellent movements that you might benefit from! The important thing to consider is that while these stretches are very effective for some people, these very same stretches might do the opposite. Therefore, it is recommended that you seek professional advice from a physiotherapist to determine the most effective treatment for your pain.


The number of suggested sets, repetitions, and hold times for each movement depends on your needs assessment. Your registered physiotherapist should give you specific parameters based on your individual needs. However, if increased joint mobility is the goal and the movement is targeting a stiff joint, then repetitions can be performed for longer durations.

1. Seated Spinal Twist

Stretches hips, glutes, lower back, and piriformis

  • Sit on the floor with legs straight in front and arms behind your back
  • Cross right foot over left leg and place it outside your left knee
  • Bring your left foot to your right side
  • Place left elbow on the outside of your right knee, creating resistance
  • Turn chest, head and eyes to the right
2. Happy Baby

Stretches hip adductors and opens the lower back

  • Lie face up and relax your head
  • Splay legs open
  • Lift feet off the floor
  • Use hands to grab the outside edges of feet
  • Pull feet toward chest
  • Allow knees to lower toward the respective side of the body
  • Keep back flat against the floor
3. Child’s Pose

Stretches hips, low back, back, and ankles. Should be avoided by extension responders

  • Kneel on hands and knees hip-width apart (tabletop position) with your feet together behind
  • Take a deep breath in
  • Exhale while moving hips backward and lowering buttocks towards heals
  • Lengthen neck and spine by drawing the crown of head away from shoulders and ribs away from the tailbone
  • Rest forehead on the ground, with arms, extended out in front
4. Knee-to-chest

Stretches lower back, hips, and hamstrings

  • Lie on your back, extending both legs flat along the floor.
  • Keeping the left leg straight, hug your right knee into your chest
  • Keep head and back flat against the floor
5. Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold

Stretches lower back, upper back, glutes, and hamstrings. Should be avoided by extension responders

  • Move legs into a wide stance with toes pointing forward
  • Bend towards knees and bring hands to the ground
  • Keep a slight bend in your knees
  • Let your head hang heavy and the weight shift slightly towards your toes
  • Focus on feeling the release in your glutes, lower back, and hamstrings
  • Hold for 8 deep breaths
  • Slowly lift your torso by rolling up one vertebra at a time
6. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

Stretches hips, quads, and glutes. May aggravate flexion responders if not performed carefully

  • Step forward with right leg and kneel down onto your left knee
  • Adjust by moving your right foot slightly forward and engaging the core
  • Slowly shift your hips forward, tilt the pelvis posteriorly, and squeeze your butt to stretch your left hip
7. Cat cow Stretch

Stretches back, hips, abdominals, chest, and spine

  • Kneel on hands and knees hip-width apart (tabletop position) with your feet together behind
  • Take a deep breath in while slowly arching back up towards the ceiling
  • Focus on expanding the back
  • Exhale by dipping your belly button towards the floor
  • Lift head and tailbone towards the ceiling
  • Inhale while moving slowly into the cat position
8. Three-Legged Dog

Stretches hips, shoulders, hamstrings, and back. Advanced movement

  • Bend over into a downward facing dog (feet hip-width apart, hips pushed up into the air, hands shoulder-width apart, fingers facing forward, neck aligned with your back, and head facing your knees)
  • Straighten right leg and lift it off the floor
  • Extend leg as high as possible while keeping it straight
  • Keep hips aligned with shoulders, parallel to the floor
9. Glute Bridge

Strengthens glutes

  • Lie faceup, knees hip-width apart, and feet flat on the floor
  • Drive heels into the floor and lift hips up
  • Engage core and glutes
  • Walk feet inwards to be directly underneath knees
  • Focus on using glutes keep lift hips up and parallel
10. Kneeling Side Bend Stretch

Stretches groin, hips, inner thigh, intercostal muscles, and abdominal muscles (especially obliques). Advanced movement

  • Kneel on the floor with back straight and core tight
  • Extend your right leg out to the side, in line with your body
  • Lift your left arm overhead and rest your right arm on your right leg
  • Gently bend torso and left arm to the right side (avoid bending forward)
  • Keep hips facing forward
11. Cobra

Stretches hip flexor, chest, and spinal muscles. Should be avoided by flexion responders

  • Lie on your stomach with big toes touching together
  • Place hands underneath shoulders, palms against the ground, and elbows against body
  • Lightly press feet into the floor
  • Inhale, then exhale while engaging the core
  • Inhale, and press palms into the floor to lift your chest up
  • Extend arms but keep a slight bend
  • Pull shoulders down away from the ears
  • Keep head slightly up
12. Standing Quad Stretch

Stretches quads

  • Stand up straight with an engaged core. Hold on to a chair, table, or wall for support
  • Lift left foot toward left hamstring
  • With your left hand, grab your left ankle and pull it towards the butt
  • Gently tilt the pelvis posteriorly
  • Raise right hand toward the ceiling
13. Lumbar Trunk Twist rotation

Stretches back, spine, hip, obliques, and glutes

  • Lie down on your back with your arms flat out
  • Bend hips and knees at 90 degrees with feet flat
  • Engage abdominal muscles
  • Slowly rotate knees to the right side keeping hips in contact with the floor (do not engage arms)
  • Rotate slowly to the left side
14. Pigeon pose

Stretches hip flexors, outer hips, glutes, and lower back (psoas). Advanced movement

  • Bend over into a downward-facing dog with hands shoulder-width apart
  • Step left leg forward between hands
  • Drop right knee down and untuck the toes
  • Slide left foot over toward the right pelvic bone, placing the outside edge of the left leg on the floor
  • Align hips parallel to each other, and press the left hip toward the floor
  • Bend over onto elbows or stay on hands depending on desired intensity

Treatment

If you are experiencing back pain or hip pain make sure to consult a registered physiotherapist for a proper diagnosis and personalized treatment plan to address your needs. If you’re in Mississauga or Etobicoke, Ontario, consider LIFT Physiotherapy, who specializes in pain management and exercise therapy.

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