3 Yoga Stretches to Unwind the Low Back

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Low back pain can make it hard to get comfortable–even sitting or walking can hurt when you’ve got an achy low back. Determining the root cause of the pain can be challenging, but oftentimes it’s a result of tight hips and hamstrings. Excessive sitting, running, walking or any activity that involves prolonged work or immobility of the legs without stretching can create tension in these large muscle groups. Because of their relationship (both placement and attachment of the hips and hamstring muscles) to the pelvis, it’s important to keep these muscles strong and flexible to avoid compression in the low back.

About These Stretches

These stretches are appropriate for just about everyone, regardless of your level of strength and flexibility. They’re designed to increase flexibility in the lower body, which can relieve aches and pains associated with a tight low back. By doing these stretches in a supine position, your low back is supported during the stretch, rather than having to support the weight of your torso as done in seated and forward folds. These three postures help to lengthen the inner and outer hip muscles while stretching the hamstrings, calves, and thighs. You will work with the hips in a neutral gait, internal rotation and external rotation to unwind and loosen the muscles around the pelvis. You’ll need a yoga strap, towel, or belt to get started.

Remember to listen to your body and don’t push your flexibility beyond what is comfortable for you; some days you may feel more limber than others. 

1. Supta Padangusthasana A: Reclining Big Toe Pose

You might notice that the pose feels less strenuous as you continue the stretch; feel free to deepen the stretch by flexing your right foot and drawing your right toes toward the top of the head. You’ll feel the stretch down your hamstring. 

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  • Lie on your back with both knees bent and your feet on the floor. If your head and neck don’t feel comfortable, place a small towel or blanket beneath your head.
  • Take a deep breath and let your shoulders relax. Draw your right knee into your chest and place the strap or a towel on the arch of your right foot, holding the ends of the strap in each hand.
  • Slowly straighten your right leg up until it is perpendicular to the floor. Reach the sole of your foot toward the ceiling; if you have tight hamstrings, keep a slight bend of the right knee.
  • Press both shoulders lightly down on the floor. You can grab the straps with both hands as high or low as needed to keep your shoulders relaxed.
  • You can keep your left leg bent (best if you have tight legs) or straighten it while actively pressing your left heel into the floor.
  • Hold this stretch and breathe slow, deep breaths for 1 to 2 minutes while keeping your belly and shoulders relaxed.
  • Switch sides and repeat the stretch.

2. Supta Padangusthasana B

In this pose, your hip is externally rotated, allowing for a nice stretch to the adductors (inner hip and thigh muscles) and groin while extending the hamstring and calf.

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  • Stay as you are in Supta Padangushtasana A. Bring the strap to your right hand and rest your left hand on your left hip.
  • Slowly roll your right thigh outward and extend your leg out to the right, keeping your  right foot in line with your right hip.
  • Try to keep your hips level. Press your left heel into the floor and use your left hand to ground your left leg. Extend your right leg as far out to the right as your flexibility allows.
  • Keep your shoulders resting on the floor and adjust the strap if needed. Be sure not to push or pull, as the hamstrings are very sensitive and susceptible to injury.
  • Remain in this pose for 1 to 2 minutes, taking deep breaths. Then engage your core muscles and slowly draw the right leg back to center.
  • Switch sides and repeat the stretch.

3. Parivrtta Supta Padangusthasana: Revolving Reclined Big Toe Pose

This supine twist starts by internally rotating the right hip flexor, creating length in the abductors (outer hips and thigh muscles).

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  • From Supta Padangusthasa A (still on your right side), bring the strap over to your left hand and hold it there. Release your right arm out to the right, so that it is in line with your right shoulder.
  • Slowly draw your right leg over to the left, across your body. Try to keep your right leg in line with your hip, and loosen the strap as necessary.
  • How far your leg will go depends on the flexibility of your outer right hip. Listen to your body and gently relax into a good stretch.
  • If you have tight hamstrings, you can bend your leg, but keep pressing through your right heel. If your flexibility allows, slightly tip your body to the left so that you’re on your outer left hip.
  • From there, either hold your right leg over the floor or rest your foot on a block to keep the sacrum (pelvic vertebrae) aligned. Continue holding the strap with your left hand.
  • Maintain this posture for 1 to 2 minutes, then bring your leg back to the center of your body. Release the strap and relax your right leg, bringing it to meet the left leg on the floor.
  • Take a moment here to notice the difference in the right and left sides of your body. It might feel as though your right leg is longer than the left.
  • Switch sides and repeat the stretch.

Did you know yoga can help soothe your stomach? Check out 8 Yoga Poses for Better Digestion.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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