Stretch Back Pain Away through Your Quadriceps Muscles

Standing Quad Exercise

Woman performing standing quad stretch while holding onto concrete wall.
Standing quadriceps stretches may help release low back pain. Cultura RM/Mike Titte/Cultura/Getty Images

One thing that tightens up the quadriceps muscle more than just about anything is time spent being sedentary. (Hint, hint: Computer work and sitting in front of the TV.)

The reason is that such prolonged sitting keeps your hips in a static contraction, which tends to decrease hip range of motion, and may lead to hip arthritis.

Too much sitting can also tighten up your back muscles.  By nature of the muscle's location, a tight quad pulls your pelvis forward.

 Because the spine tends to go along for the ride when the pelvis moves, as constantly contracting quads tug on the front of the hips, the lumbar lordosis (arch) in your low back increases, which may lead to tight back muscles, pain and posture problems. 

In most cases, the fix for tight quadriceps is simple enough: Stretch them!

Quad Stretch Prep

The following stretch can be used at the office for a work break and at home as part of your regular back maintenance program. It may also be really helpful after a workout, because exercising without stretching afterwards can result in excessively tight muscles.  (Trust me, I know this from personal experience!)

If you are de-conditioned or balance challenged, consider using a chair or wall for support. If you are super tight in your quads, consider using a strap or a belt to help you reach your foot. Don't worry, I'll provide instructions for these variations.

Otherwise, no other equipment is needed for the standing quadriceps stretch.

Quad Stretch Instructions and Tips

Stand. If you are using a chair, be behind it, facing the back, and place your right hand on top.

Bend. Bend both knees to lower your body a bit. (You can lean forward a little, if you need.)

Grasp your Ankle (or where you can comfortably reach) with your Hand. Bring your left hand behind you and grasp the area between the left ankle and the top of your left foot. If you can’t reach that far down, that is okay – just bend your left knee and grasp your left leg where you can.

But here is a tip for that: When you bend down to get a hold of your ankle, bring the knee of the leg you’ll be grasping forward, in front of your body. This should also bring your foot and ankle forward, to the point where you may be able to reach down and wrap your hand around that area.

Note: by practicing the standing quadriceps stretch regularly, you’ll likely develop the flexibility that will enable you to reach your hand to the top of your foot with ease.

Straighten. Gently and slowly straighten your standing leg.

What if Your Quadriceps are Just Too Tight?

If your quads are super tight (i.e. it is difficult for you to reach your foot, the stretch is painful and/or you feel like you are going to lose your balance), one thing you might do is place a strap or belt around your foot or ankle, and hold it at a level you can reach without strain or pain. If you use this variation, then with strap in hand (and around your foot,) bring one or both arms overhead with bent elbows and leverage the pulling action from behind your shoulders.

Upping the Intensity of the Quad Stretch

Gently pull the foot of the leg that is being stretched behind you and toward your buttock. Try to keep your knee directly underneath your hip. If this makes the stretch too intense, then you can fudge a little, but try not to.

Stay there and breathe for a few moments. Again, if you practice this regularly, you should be able to get your knee directly under your hip over time.

If you can easily position your knee under your hip, intensify the stretch by:

  • Pulling your foot toward your buttock.
  • Gently pressing your buttock forward, taking care to keep the knee under the hip, and the foot close to your buttock.

    How Many Should You Do and How Often?

    When you do this quadriceps stretch, try to hold it for up to 30 seconds (but do hold it for at least 5 seconds, and build up time as you continue to practice.) Put your foot back on the floor and rest for a couple of seconds before trying it again.  Repeat this sequence 2-5 times and then do the whole thing on the other leg.

    Timing Your Quad Stretch
    Hold for a MinimumHold for a MaximumNumber of TimesTips 
    5 Seconds30 Seconds2-5Vary the types of quad stretches you do to "get" all the muscle fibers. 


    Another tip that may be helpful is to vary the types of quadriceps stretches you do in a week. For example, between days of standing quad stretch, you may intersperse the yoga camel pose or a Pilates move such as side lying quadriceps stretch. Mixing it up may keep you motivated to stretch, especially if it's painful for you. The main thing about stretching is to make sure you get all the major muscle groups, and the quadriceps is certainly an important group to include.

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