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Stiff Back Stretches: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Stiff Back Stretches: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Having a stiff back can be extremely painful and debilitating. It affects your mobility and prevents you from carrying out your daily activities. 

Understanding the symptoms, getting a proper diagnosis, and using the right treatment options can provide relief from back stiffness. This article provides a detailed overview of stiff back stretches - their symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments.

Symptoms of a Stiff Back

A stiff back refers to tightness and inflexibility in the muscles of the back. This restricted movement in the back muscles leads to pain and discomfort. Here are some of the common symptoms of having a stiff back:

  • Difficulty bending over or looking side to side
  • Pain and stiffness in the lower back area
  • Aching pain or soreness in the back muscles
  • Back spasms or cramps
  • Tenderness when pressure is applied to the back
  • Difficulty standing up straight with normal posture
  • Pain that worsens with movement or activity
  • Stiffness that is more pronounced in the morning

In some cases, the stiffness may be accompanied by other symptoms like a burning sensation or numbness/tingling. 

The pain can range from mild to severe, making daily activities difficult. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to figure out the underlying cause.

Diagnosis of a Stiff Back

To diagnose the cause of a stiff back, doctors may use several techniques:

Physical Examination

The doctor will assess your range of motion by asking you to move in different directions. They will check for muscle tightness or spasms by applying pressure along the back. This helps identify the location and severity of the stiffness.

Medical History

Your doctor will ask about any previous back injuries, underlying medical conditions, and medications you're taking. This provides insights into factors that may contribute to muscle tightness.

Imaging Tests

If the cause is not identified from physical tests, imaging scans like X-rays or MRI may be ordered. This allows the doctor to check for issues like disc bulges, arthritis, or fractures that could lead to back stiffness.

Blood Tests

Blood tests help diagnose inflammatory conditions like ankylosing spondylitis that can cause back stiffness and pain. It also helps check for vitamin deficiencies that affect muscle health.

Once the cause is diagnosed, appropriate back stretches, and treatments can be prescribed.

Treatments for a Stiff Back

Treating a stiff back requires a combination of medical therapies and home remedies. Some options include:


Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen help reduce swelling and pain. Muscle relaxants may be prescribed to loosen tight muscles.

Hot and Cold Therapy

Applying heating pads or ice packs can alleviate muscle stiffness and spasms in the back. Use ice for the first 24-48 hours, then switch to heat.

Stretches and Exercises

Specific stretches and exercises help improve flexibility and range of motion in a stiff back. This also strengthens the back and core muscles.


Massage therapy helps loosen tight muscle tissues and trigger points. Deep tissue massage and myofascial release techniques provide relief from chronic back tightness.

Posture Correction

Practicing proper posture reduces strain on the back muscles. Use ergonomic chairs and back support aids to maintain good back posture.

Having proper posture is crucial to prevent and alleviate back stiffness. When sitting, keep your head level above your torso and avoid slouching or hunching forward. 

Stand upright with your shoulders back while engaging your core. Use ergonomic chairs with lumbar support when sitting for long periods. 

Place a small cushion or rolled-up towel behind your lower back for added support. Take breaks from sitting every 30 minutes to walk and stretch. 

Having good posture reduces strain on the back muscles allowing them to relax. Practicing mindful posture correction throughout the day prevents tightness so your back stays flexible and pain-free.

Yoga and Tai Chi

Gentle yoga poses and tai chi improve back flexibility and reduce stiffness. These also help build core strength.

In severe cases, steroid injections or surgery may be needed to treat underlying conditions causing chronic back stiffness. Consulting a physical therapist can help design an appropriate exercise program for relief. With regular stretching and targeted treatments, it’s possible to successfully manage and alleviate stiff back discomfort.

Best Stretches for a Stiff Back

Stretching the muscles of the back is crucial to get relief from stiffness. When performed correctly, stretches can loosen tight muscles, improve mobility, and reduce achiness. Here are some of the best and most effective stretches for a stiff back:

Child’s Pose

The child’s pose gently stretches the lower back muscles. To do this:

  • Kneel on the floor and sit back on your heels.
  • Bring your torso down between your thighs with your arms extended forward.
  • Hold for 30 seconds and focus on breathing deeply.
  • Repeat 2-3 times.

Cat-Cow Pose

The cat-cow pose mobilizes the spine and hip flexors. To do this:

  • Get on all fours with knees under hips and hands under shoulders.
  • Inhale and arch your back, looking up (cow pose).
  • Exhale and round your back, looking down (cat pose).
  • Repeat 5-10 times slowly.

Knee to Chest

This stretch flexes the lower back. To do this:

  • Lie on your back and pull one knee towards your chest.
  • Hold the back of your thigh and hold for 20 seconds.
  • Repeat with the other leg. Do 2-3 reps per side.

Seated Spinal Twist

Twisting motions stretch the back muscles. To do this:

  • Sit up tall with legs extended. Bend right knee placing foot on the floor.
  • Place your left hand behind you and your right hand on the outside of your right thigh.
  • Twist right, pressing left hand into the floor. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side. Do 2-3 reps per side.

Standing Back Bend

This move stretches the entire back body. To do this:

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Keep knees slightly bent.
  • Place hands on hips and gently arch backward.
  • Hold for 15-20 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times.

Be sure to move slowly and stop if you feel any pinching pain while stretching. Consistency is key to gaining and maintaining back flexibility over time.

Standing Side Bend

This stretch lengthens the sides of the back and torso.

  • Stand with feet wide apart and hands on hips.
  • Bend sideways towards the right, stretching the right side of your back and torso.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then slowly come up and repeat for the left side.
  • Complete 2-3 reps per side.

Sphinx Pose

The sphinx pose is a gentle back bend that opens up the chest.

  • Lie on your stomach with your legs extended and elbows bent. Elbows should be under the shoulders.
  • Pressing into your elbows, slowly lift your head and chest off the floor.
  • Hold for 20 seconds, focusing on taking deep breaths.
  • Release back down and repeat 5 times.

Lumbar Rotation

This stretch rotates the lower back in each direction.

  • Sit tall on the floor with your legs extended. Cross right leg over left, placing the right foot flat.
  • Place your right hand behind you and gently twist your upper body to the right.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides, crossing left leg over right.
  • Complete 2-3 reps per side.

Supine Hamstring Stretch

This lying down move stretches the hamstrings and lower back.

  • Lie down and loop a belt or towel around the right foot. Straighten right leg.
  • Keeping the leg straight, slowly raise it up towards the ceiling until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of the thigh.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then lower leg and repeat on the left side. Do 2-3 reps per leg.

Pelvic Tilt

Tilting the pelvis opens up the lower back.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and arms at your sides.
  • Tighten stomach muscles and push low back into the floor to tilt pelvis up.
  • Hold for 5 seconds, then relax and repeat 10 times.

When to See a Doctor

In most cases, stiffness resulting from muscle tightness or overuse can be eased with home treatments like heating pads and stretches. 

But if your back stiffness persists for more than a week or is accompanied by worrisome symptoms, it’s best to see a doctor.

Here are some signs that indicate you should get medical attention:

  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Numbness or tingling in the legs
  • Difficulty standing up or walking
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever indicating an infection
  • Trauma such as falling or accident
  • History of cancer
  • Back stiffness that worsens at night
  • Pain not improving with rest or over-the-counter medications

Seeking timely medical care is crucial to diagnose and manage underlying conditions before they worsen. Your doctor can prescribe targeted treatment options to find relief from chronic back stiffness and pain.


Dealing with back stiffness can be frustrating, but understanding the various remedies and stretches provides hope. Identifying and addressing the root causes with your doctor’s guidance can help overcome chronic discomfort. 

Along with treatment, be sure to maintain proper posture and follow a muscle-friendly diet and lifestyle. With patience and persistence, it is possible to successfully treat a stiff back and regain mobility.

To know more about stiff back stretches, you can contact Physical Therapy Advantage in Aurora.

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