Lower Back Stretch to Do At Your Desk

Man does a lower back stretch in a standing position.
Lower back stretches at the office can be a wonderful way to take your break. John Lund/Sam Diephuis/Blend Images/Getty Images

Lower Back Stretch for the Office

Experts recommend that those of us working at our desk for long periods of time be sure to take mini-breaks to save our backs.

This article gives you instructions for a simple, but effective lower back stretch that is recommended by the American Physical Therapy Association. To help you maximize the effectiveness of the stretch, I've embellished it with a few of my favorite posture and alignment hints.

Related:  What is Posture?

But first, take stock.  If you have a back injury or condition, ask your doctor if this exercise is appropriate for you. This article only describes how to do this exercise; it does not recommend that you do it. Only your medical professionals can tell you if it's a good idea for you. That said, if you have a disc injury or condition, this exercise may not be for you because of the way you return back to the start position.
 

Lower Back Office Stretch - Instructions

You can do this stretch either sitting or standing.  

If you are sitting, position yourself at the front edge of your chair, with your two sitting bones firmly and evenly contacting the seat. Although the contact is firm, avoid gripping or excess tension in your buttock muscles. 

Related: How to Sit with Good Posture

If you are standing, place your feet so they point forward.  Try to keep them relaxed but fully contacting the floor.

Inhale, then exhale and fold your trunk over your thighs.  Keep your back relaxed, but relatively straight for this phase of the stretch. (A small amount of rounding related to the relaxation of your back is okay.)  

  • To support your back, pull your lower ab muscles in towards your spine as you exhale. 
  • Keep the front of your hips (i.e., your quadriceps muscles where they cross over your hip joints) as soft and relaxed as you can.  This will help you use your ab muscles for supporting your back, and it may also help access a muscle called the psoas. The psoas is a back-friendly muscle that flexes the hips.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed as you do this movement.  This helps isolate the action at the hips, making the stretch that much more effective.
  • Let your head hang down like a rag doll.

​The return movement starts at the pelvis and sequences up through your spine.

Inhale again, then exhale and recommit to softening the front of your hips as well as pulling your abs in to help support your back.

Uncurl your spine, beginning at the pelvis. 

  • ​Give each vertebra a chance to luxuriate in the movement.
  • Try to be aware of which parts of your spine tend to move in 'clumps', i.e. where the vertebrae cannot uncurl independently when it's their turn. Achieving more movement independence between adjacent vertebrae makes a good flexibility goal.  (But for safety's sake, take this in steps as you repeat this exercise over time.)

    Source:

    Moffat, Marilyn, P.T. Ph.D. and Vickery, Steve. The American Physical Therapy Association Book of Body Maintenance and Repair. Owl Books. Henry Holt and Company, LLC. New York, New York, 1999. Seated Low Back Stretch p.228

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