Back stretches are useful as part of an overall exercise program for relieving chronic low-back pain. They can also help counteract the effects of sitting hunched over a desk, computer keyboard, or mobile device for much of the day, as many of us now do. We curated this list with the help of Anthony Wall, director of professional education at the American Council on Exercise. You might recognize two of the three stretches if you’ve practiced yoga.
Begin on a mat on your hands and knees, with your knees directly under your hips and wrists directly under your shoulders. Your back should be straight like a tabletop, and your spine neutral. As you exhale, slowly round your spine toward the ceiling—like a cat does when it's angry—while you tuck your tailbone and let your head sink comfortably toward the floor. Then inhale as you reverse the movement, lifting your tailbone to the ceiling while your chest moves forward, your back arches, and your abdomen moves towards the floor. Be careful to keep your neck aligned with your spine. Continue moving slowly back and forth between the positions for 8 to 10 reps.
90 degree lat stretch
Stand with a table or other flat surface about 4 feet in front of you, with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Contract your abdominal muscles as you shift your weight forward, bending at the hips until you can place your hands on the table. Your arms should be extended, with a straight line from wrist to elbow to shoulder. Exhale as you lean back into your hips, straighten your knees (but don’t lock them), and draw your torso toward the ground, maintaining a flat back throughout. Keep your chin tucked toward your neck. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, then go back to the starting position (legs bent, hands on table). Repeat for a total of 8 to 10 reps.
Start in the same hands-and-knees (tabletop) position as for cat-cow, but with your big toes touching. Widen your knees toward the outside of the mat, then move your buttocks back toward your heels as you stretch your arms forward and toward the floor, eventually resting your chest between your thighs and your forehead on the floor. Keep your shoulders pulled down and back, away from your ears. You should feel the stretch in your buttocks, up the length of your spine, and in your arms all the way to your fingertips. Don’t force your buttocks any closer to your heels than is comfortable. Hold the position for 5 to 10 deep, slow breaths.
All images are from the American Council on Exercise.