“The sacroiliac, or SI joints, which connect the bottom of the spine to the pelvis, bear a lot of the weight of the bones, so pain in the lower back is very common,” says kinesiologist Michele Olson, PhD. These joints can become inflamed from injury, twisting, sitting for long periods of time, walking oddly or simply years of pressure. “As the area swells, the sacroiliac nerves are squeezed,” explains Olson. “This creates a sensation of pain in the lower back and along the outside of the hip and gluteal muscles.”
Fortunately, the pressure and swelling can be quickly alleviated. “Stretching elongates and loosens the lower back, gluteal, and hip muscles so they are not squeezing on the nerves,” says Olson. “This relieves compression on the area, alleviating pain.” In one study, exercises that improved flexibility in the lower back and hips eliminated SI joint pain after just six sessions.
To get the benefits, try these stretches, which Olson recommends doing four times a week.
This move strengthens the core, hips, and gluteal muscles to reduce the load on the SI joints.
To do: Stand with your feet together, pressing your heels into the floor. Bend your knees as if you were sitting down in a chair, keeping your back tall and belly pulled in. Hold your arms straight out above your head, palms facing each other, for balance. Hold for eight breaths.
This position stretches and opens up the hips to loosen the SI joints.
To do: Start on all fours. Slide your right knee forward toward your right wrist so your right ankle is in front of your left hip. Keeping your hips facing forward, slide your left leg back to straighten your leg. Point your toes. If your left thigh doesn’t touch the floor, place a pillow underneath it. Hold for eight breaths, then switch sides and repeat with the opposite leg.
Thread the Needle
This stretch elongates the spine to improve blood flow and reduce tightness in the lower back.
To do: Start on all fours with your knees hip-width apart. Slide your right arm underneath your left arm with your right palm facing up. Let your right shoulder, ear, and cheek rest on the mat. Raise your left arm over your head for a deeper stretch. Hold for eight breaths.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.