How to Use Stretching and a Foam Roller for Lower Back Pain

February 22, 2012

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The low back is a complex network of muscles, bones and connective tissue. Unfortunately, it's a source of pain in 90 percent of Americans, including athletes, who are highly susceptible because of the extreme stress placed on their bodies. Typically back issues are due to a lack of mobility in the trunk and hips, or a weakness in supporting core muscles. A balanced and consistent stretching program will help eliminate postural issues and allow you to perform at your peak pain-free.

Three critical muscles need a great deal of attention to improve low back mobility:

  1. The Quadratus Lumborum connects to the pelvis, ribs and the sides of the lower spine. It can become overactive in athletes with poor posture from rounded backs, causing one hip to be slightly higher than the other.
  2. The Latissimus Dorsi is a long and broad muscle that runs along the sides of the back up to the armpits, connecting to the ribs, pelvis, tailbone, spine and arm. Tight lats cause the shoulders to round forward, further contributing to low back issues.
  3. The Erector Spinae covers the mid to upper spine and helps keep the body upright. In some athletes, it can be excessively tight, causing the pelvis to tilt forward and putting stress on the low back.

There are three primary solutions to fix low back pain:

1. Lower-Back Foam Rolling

This is a proven method to release tension in muscles. Slowly roll over muscles, focusing on tender spots and avoiding rolling directly over bone. Perform 2x20 rolls each.

Quadratus Lumborum Foam Roll
Lie on side with foam roller between hip and rib cage. Slowly roll from hip to rib cage for specified reps.

Quadratus Lumborum Foam Roll

Latissimus Dorsi Foam Roll
Lie on side with foam roller under armpit. Slowly roll from armpit to halfway down side of body for specified reps.

Latissimus Dorsi Foam Roll

Erector Spinae Foam Roll
Lie on back with foam roller between shoulder blades and pelvis. Slowly roll from mid to upper back for specified reps.

Erector Spinae Foam Roll

2. Active Isolated Stretch

The three stretches below put tension on muscles by contracting the opposite muscle group. This technique results in an increased stretch compared to other stretching methods. Perform eight reps each, holding for two seconds each rep.

Bent Knee Crossover
Lie on back with arms out to sides. Bend right knee and hip to 90-degree angle, keeping opposite leg straight on ground. Drape right thigh across body and hold for specified time. Release and repeat for specified reps. Perform set with left leg.

Bent Knee Crossover

Side Bend
Kneel on ground with hands clasped behind head. Bend torso to side, keeping back straight. Hold for specified time. Return to start position and perform rep on opposite side. Repeat in alternating fashion for specified reps.

Side Bend

Quad Cat
Begin on all fours with back flat. Tuck hips forward and raise lower back up to create a dome shape. Hold for specified time. Return to start position and repeat for specified reps.

Quad Cat

3. Lower Back Static Stretching

Traditional stretches are the final way to eliminate low back pain. Slowly move into each stretch and avoid bouncing. Perform each stretch for 20 seconds.

Lie on back. Grab both knees with hands and pull to chest. Hold for specified time.


Quad Rock-Back T-Raise
Kneel on ground, sit hips back onto ankles and fold chest toward ground. Extend arms overhead onto ground. Lift right arm as high as possible to side without moving upper body. Hold for specified time and return to start position. Repeat on left side.

Quad Rock-Back T-Raise

Quad Rock-Back Side Bend
Kneel on ground, sit hips back onto ankles and fold chest toward ground. Extend arms overhead onto ground. Reach arms to side at a 45-degree angle and press hands into ground. Hold for specified time and return to start position. Repeat on opposite side.

Quad Rock-Back Side Bend

Is your back pain still lingering from a recent injury? Our Injury Recovery page may be the perfect compliment to your prescribed rehab plan.

Bryan McCall
- Bryan McCall, CSCS, is the performance director for the Michael Johnson Performance Training Center at SPIRE Institute (Geneva, Ohio). He has worked in the performance...
Bryan McCall
- Bryan McCall, CSCS, is the performance director for the Michael Johnson Performance Training Center at SPIRE Institute (Geneva, Ohio). He has worked in the performance...
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