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Lower Back Tightness | Causes, Prevention, and Exercises

Research done by Heath Policy Institute revealed that “nearly 65 million Americans report a recent episode of back pain”. Lower back tightness and pain is a common injury that almost all adults have to deal with at some point in their life either due to aging or lifestyle choices.

While this condition can affect how you perform your daily activities such as sitting, standing, and/or sleeping, it can also be the initial cause of your lower back pain due to poor posture. Therefore, it can be debilitating and can cause difficulty with movement, sitting, standing, and sleeping.

Let’s examine the causes of lower-back tightness and how to identify it. We will also look at some ways to alleviate the pain and prevent it from recurring.

What Causes Lower Back Tightness?

There are several causes of lower back pain and tightness that vary from weakened muscles due to old age, lifestyles that restrict movement, to other injuries/illness that affects the lumbar region.

Below are common factors that can lead to a tight lower back and back pain:

  • Weak abdominal muscles or core muscles
  • Sprains and strains
  • Prolonged periods of sitting
  • Ruptured discs and Invertebrate disk degeneration
  • Stiff and irritated joints
  • Pinched nerves
  • Muscular dysfunction
  • Arthritis
  • Obesity
  • Psychological stress
  • Disease of the internal organs
  • Age-related changes of the spine
  • Dehydration
  • Heavy lifting (typically with poor posture)

Symptoms You Suffer From Lower Back Tightness

It’s important to note and take action when any symptoms of lower back tightness occur, whether it is small or not if it affects your daily life such as difficulty performing tasks like bending down to pick up something. If this condition is left unattended, symptoms can worsen and lead to severe injuries.

Early-stage symptoms may feel like a dull aching pain in your lower back and may cause you some discomfort doing daily activities such as sitting, standing, and/or sleeping without any proper support.

Then these can spread to different parts of your body that are connected to the lumbar spine such as your neck, hips, and gluteal muscles. As a result, these muscles can become stiff, tender, and/or sore.

Below are common symptoms of a tight lower back:

  • Muscle pain and stiffness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle dysfunction throughout the erector spinae
  • Having a curved back (bad posture)

It’s essential to seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms and/or any others.

How To Avoid Developing Lower Back Pain

You may have just recovered from a tight lower back or lower back pain and you are looking to never go through it again — aka avoid developing a lumbar spine problem — or just simply not risking ever developing a lower back problem.

Well, here are some of the ways you implement some changes in your lifestyle to prevent and maintain a healthy lower back:

  • Eat a balanced and healthy diet
  • Sustain a healthy weight
  • Keep good posture when sitting down
  • Warm up and/or stretch before and after a workout
  • Keep an active lifestyle
  • Avoid sitting for long periods of time

Why Prolonged Sitting Is Bad For You

According to Dr. Edward R. Laskowski, M.D., sitting for long periods can cause several health problems. For example, it can include an increase in weight or obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and even increased cholesterol levels.

There were multiple studies done looking at the difference between an average person’s sitting time and activity levels. Consequently, it was found that those who spend 8 hours a day sitting without any physical activity had a similar risk of death posed by obesity and smoking.

Read more about the risks of sitting too much here.

Muscles That Are Responsible For A Stiff Back

The human body is made up of hundreds of muscles yet not a single muscle performs a movement on its own. When some of the muscles in your body are dysfunctional, your brain sends a signal to other muscles to compensate for that dysfunctional muscle — this is also called a compensation pattern.

Compensating excessively can lead to more pressure being placed on other muscles that support the dysfunctional muscles, ultimately leading to a breakdown of the compensating muscle.

Below are examples that can cause your lumbar spine to be put under more stress:

Tight Hamstrings

The hamstrings are one of the largest muscle groups in your body that are located at the back of each of your thighs. These muscles help to bend your knees and move your hips backward performing daily activities such as walking, running, and jumping.

Having tight hamstrings can cause leg stiffness and limit mobility. The cause of tight hamstrings is usually exercising, especially intense exercising where the hamstring is the most targeted muscle — for example, hamstring curls or playing soccer.

In some cases, tight hamstrings may occur with symptoms such as:

  • Cramping
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness
  • Redness

Injuries or tight hamstrings can result in lower back pain since they are responsible for basic activities such as walking, running, and jumping. As a result, this can cause other muscles to pick up the slack as they struggle to perform the same tasks.

Here are some of the ways you can treat a tight hamstring or better yet, avoid it:

  • Stretch the hamstrings
  • Use a foam roller to loosen the muscles
  • If the stiffness occurs despite doing stretches, go to physical therapy


Tight Hip Flexors

The hip flexors primarily include 4 muscles which are called iliopsoas, rectus femoris, sartorius, and pectineus. These muscles are responsible for moving your lower body as they let you walk and bend your hips.

Having tight hip flexors can reduce your range of motion, making it more difficult to perform daily activities. One of the muscles — iliopsoas — is directly connected to your lumbar vertebrae (the 5 bones that form your lower back) and can cause strain to your lower back when your hip flexors are injured or dysfunctioning.

Causes of a tight hip flexor:

  • Repetition of sudden movements using the hip flexors
  • Prolonged sitting (causes the iliopsoas to shrink)
  • Having a weak core
  • Asymmetrical posture (standing or putting more weight on one leg than the other)

This dysfunction is more than just having tight muscles and when left untreated, it can lead to more serious injuries.

Symptoms of tight hip flexors:

  • Sharp pains in the front hip or groin area
  • Cramping, stiff, or sore upper leg muscles
  • Swelling or bruising on the hips or upper thigh area

Here are some of the ways you can treat tight hip flexors:

  • Warming up and/or stretching before and after a workout
  • Using heat to improve blood circulation
  • Using foam rollers in order to release muscles tension and improve blood flow

The Best Exercises To Reduce Lower Back Tightness

Hip circles

This exercise helps reduce lower back tightness and brings more blood flow to the area. Improving blood flow to a muscle is essential in order to carry necessary nutrients to the muscles.

Muscles used:

  • Rectus abdominis (abdominal muscles)
  • Erector spinae (muscles that run the length of the back)
  • Pelvic muscles

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart and bend your knees slightly. Place your hands on your hips.
  2. Draw a circle with your hips by rotating it in a clockwise direction.
  3. Repeat going in the other direction.


This exercise relieves pressure on the spinal nerves by stretching out the spinal column, leaving more space for the nerves to exit. Above all, the knees to chest stretch is known to reduce stiffness associated with spinal arthritis and/or spinal stenosis.

Muscles used:

  • Gluteus maximus
  • Pelvic muscles
  • Spinal extensors
  • Quadriceps

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with both legs extended.
  2. Bring your left knee to your chest.
  3. Hold this position for 5 seconds by holding your shin down with interlaced fingers, and then release your leg.
  4. Repeat this stretch 5 times on both legs.
  5. Bring both your knees to your chest and hug your shins, if possible.
  6. Hold this position for 30 seconds


This exercise that flows from one yoga pose to another is extremely beneficial to your spine as it provides a nice stretch from your shoulders down to your hips. Additionally, it releases any tension along your spinal column and improves blood circulation.

Muscles used:

  • Erector spinae
  • Rectus abdominis
  • Triceps
  • Gluteus maximus

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Go into the all-fours position — putting your weight on both your hands and knees.
  2. Take a deep breath in as you look up to the ceiling as best as you can while dropping your abdomen towards the ground.
  3. Breathe out as you take your head back down and arch your back towards the ceiling.
  4. Repeat this sequence for at least 1 minute.

Child’s Pose

This gentle yoga pose allows you to rest while also providing a nice stretch for your back, hips, thighs, and ankles.

Muscles used:

  • Gluteus maximus
  • Posterior muscles
  • Hamstrings
  • Spinal extensors

Here’s how to do it:

  1. From the all-fours position (putting your weight on both your hands and knees), lower your buttocks towards the back of your legs as much as you can. Make sure your knees are slightly bent a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lower your abdomen into the middle of your thighs and place your forehead on the ground. You may also want to put a pillow under your thighs, chest, or forehead for more support.
  3. Extend your arms out above your head with the palm of your hands touching the ground or rest them beside your legs with your palms facing the ceiling.
  4. Relax every part of your body and try letting it fall heavily.
  5. Hold this pose for at least 1 minute.


Firstly, this yoga pose allows you to relax your lower back and pelvic muscles. It also provides a gentle stretch on your gluteal muscles and hamstrings.

Muscles used:

  • Hamstrings
  • Pelvic muscles
  • Lower back
  • Back of your neck

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Sit with your right side against a 90° wall.
  2. Lie down then swing your legs around propping the back of your legs against the wall.
  3. Extend your arms towards your side or above your head, whichever is most comfortable for you. Pay attention to release the tensions in your lower back.
  4. Hold this pose for at least 2 minutes.

Other Treatments For A Tight Lower Back

Exercising and stretching daily doesn’t always help relieve all of the pain caused by your lumbar spine. In some cases, stretching and exercising may make your pain worse as it can aggravate muscles if it’s not properly diagnosed.

So, if exercising and stretching daily doesn’t help relieve all of your pain, here are some other ways you can treat it:

Light Activity

Try light activities such as swimming, biking, or walking to help with lower back pain and tightness. Swimming is great to start with as the water helps supports your body but do avoid any fast strokes that twist your body.

Be sure to start with small sessions to avoid putting stress on your muscles and building up over time.

Ice and Heat

Applying ice and heat to your muscles is a great and efficient way to relieve pain and stiffness.

Use ice to reduce swelling and inflammation of the muscle. This is generally used after an injury. If you are experiencing any numbness or swelling, be sure to ice the affected area.

Use heat to improve blood flow around the affected area, which then allows nutrients and oxygen to travel to the joints and muscles. Gently apply heat to the affected area before and/or after activities to help loosen and relax sore muscles and relieve some tension in your lower back.

When To See A Doctor About Lower Back Pain?

To clarify, most lower back problems are not life-threatening and can be often treated without any medical attention by doing daily exercises and stretches that solely focuses on improving blood circulation around the spinal column. Typically, at-home treatments can take up to two to six weeks of regular exercise and stretches in order to feel better.

However, if the pain and tightness persist longer than required despite being consistent with the at-home remedies, it is recommended to seek professional medical attention.

Always seek medical attention after a fall or an injury that affects your spinal column.

Here are some of the symptoms that require immediate medical attention:

  • Back pain with bowel or bladder problems
  • Muscles strain after a vigorous exercise


To summarize, lower back pain is a common complaint among adults and is the number one leading cause of work-loss days — or days absent at work. Consequently, there are many different causes ranging from natural causes (aging), and lifestyle choices, to injuries or illnesses.

Above all, knowing the causes and symptoms of this common condition may ultimately help you prevent developing lower back problems and reduce the risk of injury.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, a physical exam or therapy may be a solution for you to help you get on track and back to your everyday activities.

In order to help get rid of that persistent pain and or/discomfort, feel free to contact us for a free consultation today.

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