Physiotherapist Hollie Maskell reveals her top stretches & exercises for helping ease & soothe lower & upper back pain

Is your back feeling tight, tense or sore? We know the feeling. Back pain, particularly lower back pain, is very common, but the good news is that there are some easy moves you can weave into your daily routine that could help ease some of the discomfort.

Here, we speak to Hollie Maskell, a physiotherapist who specialises in musculoskeletal conditions, to get her expert recommendations for lower back pain. She shares the top exercises and stretches to help prevent aches and pains. After a hard day at a desk – for those who work in an office, or from home – they’re just what’s needed.

What can cause back pain?

If you have back pain, rest assured that you’re not alone. It’s estimated that around 8 in 10 of us will experience it at some point in our lives. The good news is around 90% of these cases get better without specialist help. There are also actions we can take to help ease the symptoms.

Some of the causes of back pain include.

• A pulled muscle (or strain)

• Excessive physical effort

• Inactivity and staying in one position for too long (for example, spending hours sitting at a desk)

• Medical conditions such as sciatica or a slipped disc

• Trauma – where the body has been exposed to a sudden change in movement or impact

What can I do?

There are a range of things that you can do to help improve your back pain and speed up your recovery. If you’re in pain, you may want to consider taking an anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen, if it’s suitable for you. But with any pain relief, have a chat with your Boots pharmacist to make sure you’re getting the right pain relief that’s suitable for you and your condition.

An ice pack at the earliest signs of pain – within the first 24-72 hours – can also help soothe pain and swelling by minimising inflammation. Or, you could consider using a heat patch, to stimulate blood circulation to the area.

Hollie says, “Placing a heat patch either side of the upper back to warm the tissues can help relax the surrounding muscles to help alleviate pain.”

Resist the temptation to stay in bed, or inactive, for long periods of time (it can make back pain worse) and instead, find ways to stay active. Try some simple stretching exercises like the five gentle movements listed below for effective relief.

Go slowly to begin with and if you feel any pain, ease off. If you have an existing medical condition or haven’t exercised for a while, speak to your GP before starting any new forms of exercise.

“Doing these stretches regularly can help keep your back from stiffening up and help increase your mobility”

Five exercises & stretches that may help ease back pain

Here are Hollie’s easy-to-follow tutorials for helping relieve back pain. From a knee hug to cat-cow pose and more, there’s a stretch for every fitness level.

“I’d recommend doing the stretches in the video daily at least once a day,” says Hollie. “The more you do them, the better it is for your spine. Our spines are designed to move, so stretching regularly can help keep your back from stiffening up and help increase your mobility.”

Hollie suggests doing at least 10 repetitions (or reps) of each stretch for a set. Do three sets, three times a day, if you can. “But, there is no right or wrong amount,” she says. “If you set yourself a goal of a minimum of 10 reps, that’s enough to get the spine moving.”

Try and make the exercises a part of your daily routine – the best time is first thing in the morning. “Doing the stretches in the morning can be really beneficial, ‘waking up’ your spine before you start your day,” says Hollie.

“You can even do them in bed before you get up. This is because during the night, our spine doesn't get much movement which can cause it to stiffen. Doing these stretches in the morning gets the blood flowing to the spine, making it feel more mobile.”

And remember – we often hold our breath when we’re in pain, which actually increases tension. To avoid this, try to gently breathe out while you’re doing these exercises.

To get started, find a quiet space (enough to lie down with your legs extended), unfurl your yoga mat and prepare to feel a whole lot more comfortable.

Watch Hollie demonstrate the moves in full in our video or scroll down to follow her simple step-by-steps below.

Stretches for upper back pain

1. Thread the needle

1. Get down on all fours and place your hands under the shoulders

2. Thread your right hand under your chest so your right shoulder touches your mat

3. Now do the same on the other side, making sure to rotate your spine as you do

4. Return to the starting position and repeat

2. Cat-cow pose

1. Get down on all fours with your hands under your shoulders

2. Tuck in your head and flex your spine to stretch your upper back (cat)

3. Then extend your spine in the opposite direction, tilt your head towards the ceiling (cow). Hold and repeat 

Stretches for lower back pain

3. Knee rolls

1. Lie on your back with your arms out to the side, knees bent and feet flat on the floor

2. Roll your knees to your left side and look to your right side to stretch the lower back

3. Swap sides, dropping your knees to the right and look to your left

4. Repeat as many times as you like

4. Child’s pose

1. Get down on all fours with your hands in front of your shoulders as far as you can reach

2. Sink your hips into your heels, keeping your hands where they are

3. Rest your head on your mat, hold the position and feel the stretch in your lower back

4. Return to the starting position and repeat

5. Knee hugs

1. Lie on your back

2. Gently pull your knees to your chest

3. Rock gently from side to side to mobilise the spine

4. Now rock back and forth for a deeper stretch and repeat

If your back pain persists or worsens, get a diagnosis from a physiotherapist or GP, or speak to your Boots pharmacist about pain relief options that are suitable for you..

You may also consider booking in with PhysioFast Online Virtual Physiotherapy* through the Boots Health Hub. It provides easy access to online appointments with a physiotherapist skilled in assessment, diagnosis and treatment. All you need is an internet connection and a device (phone, tablet or computer) with a camera and microphone.

*Service offered by PhysioFast online. Eligibility criteria and charges apply. Subject to availability