If your lower back is sore, this is the sneaky place you might not be stretching enough


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Photo: Getty Images/Tom Dunkley

Despite the fact that I’m teetering on the edge of 30, I often come home from work with the same issues that a full-on grandma would have. “Alexa, my back hurts,” I complain to the closest thing I have to a roommate (bonus points: she doesn’t complain about my incessant complaining). And it’s true: After spending over eight hours a day hunched over my laptop, things start to hurt—so much so I’ve spent many an evening on the couch with a hot water bottle parked above my derriere. And while I’m cool spending my weeknights acting like an 85-year-old (hot tea, Turner Classic Movies, and single-serving candies? Um, yes please), I would prefer to have my bodily issues act my age, thank you very much.

While my heating pad admittedly helps with my lower back issues to some degree, there’s one other thing I should be doing to help ease the pain, and that’s stretching—but not necessarily the way you’d think. “More often than not, a tight or sore muscle is caused by a problem elsewhere,” says Brad Walker, Chief Stretch Adviser at StretchLab. “The lower back is one of the most common areas where people experience consistent chronic pain, and one of the most common causes of this pain is tight hip flexors. When the muscles in the front of your body, around your hips and quads, became tight and restrictive, they pull your hips out of alignment, which puts a lot of strain on your lower back.” So in order to ease the pain in your lower back, you’re going to want to stretch out your hips, quads, and hamstrings.

“The saying that ‘it’s all connected’ is very true when referring to the anatomy of the body—it helps to view the body as a whole unit instead of as a collection of isolated parts,” says Walker. If one muscle is tight, it will effect how another part of your body is able to function, which means you may need to stretch an area you wouldn’t expect in order to ease soreness. “Most people assume that when a muscle is sore, that is the muscle they should be stretching. But that’s classic example of treating the symptom instead of treating the cause,” he explains.

So if your lower back is en fuego from hunching all day (hi! it’s me! your local grandma!), ditch the hot water pad and lower back stretches, and try these out instead, courtesy of Walker.

Kneeling Quad and Hip Stretch:

  1. Kneel on one foot and the other knee. Feel free to place a towel or cushion under your knee for comfort, and hold onto something to keep your balance if needed. Keep your body upright and then slowly push your hips forward.
  2. To get the full benefit of this stretch, it’s best performed as a long-hold, static stretch. This means gradually moving into the stretch position until you can feel a tension of no more than seven out of ten, and then holding that position for 20 to 30 seconds.
  3. Take a 10 to 15 second rest, shake out your legs, and repeat the stretch two to four times on each leg.

Sitting Single-Leg Hamstring Stretch:

  1. Sit with one leg straight out in front and point your toes upwards.
  2. Bring your other foot towards your knee, keep your back straight, your head up, and reach towards your toes with both hands.
  3. Gradually move into the stretch position until you can feel a tension of no more than seven out of ten. Hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds.
  4. Take a 10 to 15 second rest, shake out your legs, and repeat the stretch two to four times on each leg.

For more lower body relief, try these other hip flexor stretches, plus this strength-training move that will give you improved hip mobility and a stronger butt. 

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