Back Pain and Your Quads — Maybe All You Need is a Good Stretch

Standing Quadriceps Stretch

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 quad muscle more than just about anything is time spent being sedentary. (Hint, hint: Computer work and sitting in front of the TV.) And prolonged sitting keeps your hips in a static position, which tends to decrease hip range of motion, and may lead to hip arthritis.

Tight quads due to an overabundance of sitting can also lead to low back pain. As constantly contracting quads tug on the front of the hips, they move both pelvis and lumbar spine forward, accentuating the lordosis, or arch in that area.

Tight back muscles, pain and posture problems may result.

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

Quad Stretch for Low Back Pain Relief — Preparation

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 prove quite helpful after a workout, because exercising without stretching afterwards can result in excessively tight muscles.  

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

Instructions

  1. If you are using a chair, stand behind it, and place your right hand on top.
  2. Bend both knees in order to lower your body a bit.
  3. 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 if this is difficult, 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. Then take it back behind you.

    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.
  1. Gently and slowly straighten your standing leg.
  2. Stay there between 10 and 30 seconds.

    Breathe!

What if Your Quadriceps are Just Too Tight?

If your quads are super tight, in other words, 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.

This should enable you to hold the stretch at a level you can tolerate.

If you use this variation, with the ends of the strap in your hand(s) and the loop around your foot, bring one or both arms overhead with bent elbows. Pull on the strap.

Upping the Intensity of the Quad Stretch

If you need a more intense stretch, gently pull the foot of the leg that is being stretched further behind you and toward your buttock. Try to keep your knee directly underneath your hip as you do this. If doing so puts you over the edge, you can cheat it out just a little, but if possible, try to avoid this.

Stay in that position for 5 - 30 seconds. Don't forget to breathe!

If you can easily position your knee directly 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, with the minimum being five seconds. If five seconds is all you can do, build up time as you continue to practice. You can also put your foot back on the floor and rest for a couple of seconds, and then try 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 the standing quad stretch described above, 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.

The main thing about stretching is to make sure you get all the major muscle groups, and the quadriceps is certainly an important one to include.