Free Stretches

Our free stretches are listed below by body area. If you have any suggestions for additions - please contact us.



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DISCLAIMER: Please note that these stretches are intended to be used with professional advice from your osteopath. Using them on your own may result in your symptoms getting worse or causing further damage to the affected area. Use them at your own risk. Do keep in mind that there are other factors than muscles involved with most spinal or joint problems - hence stretches cannot fix all painful issues on their own - but they are very useful for the maintenance of mobility and taking the load off joints. You are quite welcome to ask us questions about the stretches presented here, or give us suggestions for new additions.

GENERAL INSTRUCTIONS: Most of the stretches presented here are intended for osteopathic patients attempting to recover from a particular issue. Hence the emphasis is towards a single muscle or group of muscles rather than complex regional stretching movements. In order to produce a 'retraining' effect on the muscles it is recommended to hold these stretches for about 30 seconds each. You only need to do them once in one sitting, but they do need to be repeated several times a day for optimum results. Changes should be seen within the first week and then gradually continue. If you want to produce a change in the passive length of the muscle it is recommended to hold them for at least 60 seconds. Similarly only one repetition is needed, but these are best done right after exercise and in general wouldn't need to be done more than twice a day. The changes in the passive elements of muscles will take much longer and will be very incremental. In the photos below the green arrows always represent the area where you should expect to feel the stretch and the red arrows represent the direction in which movement is made.

levator scapulae stretch

1) Put your hand over your shoulder and onto the base of your neck.

2) Point your elbow straight ahead and make sure it stays there as you perform the stretch.

levator scapulae stretch

3) Let your head dip down and turn to look away from your elbow.

4) You should feel a strap of tightness from the top end of your shoulder blade up the same side of the neck as the raised arm and extending towards the top of the neck.

suboccipital stretch

1) Stand upright with a straight back, facing away from a wall.

2) Put a firmly rolled up towel right under the bony prominence at the back of your head.

suboccipital stretch

3) Then tuck your chin towards the wall.

4) Tilting your head down will lead to you stretching the wrong muscles. It's important to just pull your chin backwards. You should feel a stretch at the very top of your neck.

trapezius stretch
1) Sitting upright on a chair, grip the mid-point of the side of the chair on the side you would like to stretch.
trapezius stretch
2) Sidebend your head away from the side on which you are holding the chair. Take care not to turn your head.
trapezius stretch
3) Drop your head forward towards your chest.
trapezius stretch
4) You should feel the stretch along the side of the neck, top of the shoulder and down towards your shoulder blade.
trapezius stretch
5) If you would like to make the stretch stronger, you can reach across with your opposite hand onto the side of your head and provide a very gentle additional pressure. This is only in case you feel little or no stretch using the previous steps.
scalene stretch
1) Sitting upright on a chair, grip the front end of the side of the chair on the side you would like to stretch.
scalene stretch
2) Sidebend your head away from the side on which you are holding the chair. Take care not to turn your head.
scalene stretch
3) Move your chest and shoulders backwards without letting your head drop backwards too far. If your head drops too far backwards you may cause pain or tightening in the back of the neck. The stretch should be felt at the front and side of the neck and you may feel light pulling down the arm.
outer shoulder stretch

1) Put your hand over your shoulder and onto the back of your head.

2) Use your opposite hand to hold onto your forearm.

outer shoulder stretch

3) Sidebend your upper body away from the side you are stretching.

4) You should feel a stretch on the outer side of your shoulder blade and slightly down the back of your arm.

outer shoulder stretch variation
1) Place your fist onto your hip and keep your wrist straight.
outer shoulder stretch variation
2) Reach across your chest with your other arm and grip the elbow of the side being stretched. Keep the shoulder on the side which is stretching relaxed down. Pull your elbow of the side being stretched across your body with the opposite arm.
outer shoulder stretch variation
3) You should feel a stretching sensation on the outside of your shoulder blade and shoulder. There should be no discomfort on the top or front of your shoulder. If there is - try a different variation of this stretch.
prayer stretch
1) Place both elbows roughly shoulder width apart on a solid surface.
prayer stretch
2) Drop down through your shoulder while leaving your elbows where they are and slightly allow your upper body to move backwards.
prayer stretch
3) Make sure not to hunch your mid back and make sure not to drop your arms too far down / forward.
trapezius stretch
1) Sitting upright on a chair, grip the mid-point of the side of the chair on the side you would like to stretch.
trapezius stretch
2) Sidebend your head away from the side on which you are holding the chair. Take care not to turn your head.
trapezius stretch
3) Drop your head forward towards your chest.
trapezius stretch
4) You should feel the stretch along the side of the neck, top of the shoulder and down towards your shoulder blade.
trapezius stretch
5) If you would like to make the stretch stronger, you can reach across with your opposite hand onto the side of your head and provide a very gentle additional pressure. This is only in case you feel little or no stretch using the previous steps.
mid back stretch
1) Cross your legs over and leave a small gap between them - this will allow you to aim the stretch to the lower end of your shoulder / mid back.
mid back stretch
2) Or you can cross your legs over without leaving a gap between them. This will target the upper part of your mid back / shoulder.
mid back stretch
3) Place the elbow of the opposite arm behind your knee and push the elbow firmly against the knee. If you chose step 1, try to sit upright while doing this part of the stretch. If you chose step 2, try to hunch over your knee a little more while doing this part of the stretch.
mid back stretch
4) You should feel the stretch next to your shoulder blade if you chose step 1, or you should feel it just below it if you chose step 2. You may also feel a light stretch in the hip area of your top leg. In this case go to our hip stretch section. It's also important to turn your head along with your body comfortably as otherwise you will feel a strain in your neck.
spinal stretch
1) Roll up a medium sized towel very tight. If you are just starting this exercise for the first time - keep the size of the roll to the amount you can barely ring your thumb and index finger around. As your spine begins to stretch in coming weeks you can make it gradually thicker. If the towel is too large you may cause yourself subsequent pain. You may also use a foam roller of an appropriate thickness.
spinal stretch
2) Placing the towel lengthwise along your spine will have a straightening effect on your entire upper back, but also a more gradual one. Use this approach if your mid back is generally hunched forwards throughout its length.
spinal stretch
3) Placing the towel across your spine will focus the straightening effect to several segments and leave the rest of your spine unaffected. Use this approach if your spine has a small area that is hunched - place the towel across the midpoint of that area.
spinal stretch
4) Make sure you also place a pillow or other support under your head. Otherwise it will drop backwards and put your neck at risk of strain. Letting your arms fall away from you will both increase the effectiveness and stretch your chest lightly. Also keep in mind that this exercise is aimed at stretching ligaments and gradually reshaping your discs which are still capable of that. This is a process which takes weeks to months. Lay on the towel for 5-15 minutes every evening. It is also important to watch your posture during the day and not hunch over. Also your breathing mechanics can have a significant impact on the mid back - so check out our breathing section (22).
trapezius stretch
1) Sitting upright on a chair, grip the mid-point of the side of the chair on the side you would like to stretch.
trapezius stretch
2) Sidebend your head away from the side on which you are holding the chair. Take care not to turn your head.
trapezius stretch
3) Drop your head forward towards your chest.
trapezius stretch
4) You should feel the stretch along the side of the neck, top of the shoulder and down towards your shoulder blade.
trapezius stretch
5) If you would like to make the stretch stronger, you can reach across with your opposite hand onto the side of your head and provide a very gentle additional pressure. This is only in case you feel little or no stretch using the previous steps.
mid back stretch
1) Cross your legs over and leave a small gap between them - this will allow you to aim the stretch to the lower end of your shoulder / mid back.
mid back stretch
2) Or you can cross your legs over without leaving a gap between them. This will target the upper part of your mid back / shoulder.
mid back stretch
3) Place the elbow of the opposite arm behind your knee and push the elbow firmly against the knee. If you chose step 1, try to sit upright while doing this part of the stretch. If you chose step 2, try to hunch over your knee a little more while doing this part of the stretch.
mid back stretch
4) You should feel the stretch next to your shoulder blade if you chose step 1, or you should feel it just below it if you chose step 2. You may also feel a light stretch in the hip area of your top leg. In this case go to our hip stretch section. It's also important to turn your head along with your body comfortably as otherwise you will feel a strain in your neck.
 lift
1) Lay on your front on a hard surface and cross your arms in front of you. Grip the opposite forearms.
 lift
2) Place your forehead onto the forearm closest to your and relax your neck.
 lift
3) Make sure your shoulders and mid back are both as flat as you can get them.
 lift
4) While maintaining the frame you established with your forearms, lift your arms and upper body a few millimeters up. Your neck and legs should remain completely relaxed. The purpose is to activate your mid back and lower back muscles but without bending your spine. Try to hold the lift for several seconds, then relax down for several seconds and make sure all your muscles have let go. Do 10-15 repetitions in this fashion once a day.
 lift
5) This should be a very small lift just to clear the surface you're on.
 lift
6) Lifting your legs risks injuring your lower back. Lifting your arms too high risks injuring your neck.
biceps stretch
1) Place your arm out behind you with the index finger and thumb facing the wall. Everyone's biceps muscles run in a slightly different direction so try different angles, higher or lower on the wall, until you find the one which stretches your biceps best. Usually 90 degrees is a good place to start.
biceps stretch
2) Turn away from the wall.
biceps stretch
3) You should feel the stretch directly over the biceps area.
triceps stretch

1) Put your hand over your shoulder and onto the base of your neck.

2) Use your opposite hand to hold onto your forearm.

triceps stretch

3) Sidebend your upper body away from the side you are stretching.

4) You should feel a stretch on the outer side of your arm and slightly down the side of your shoulder blade.

forearm extensor stretch
1) Point your index and middle finger away from yourself. Make sure your elbow is straight.
forearm extensor stretch
2) Turn them outwards.
forearm extensor stretch
3) Keep turning them outwards until the tips of your fingers almost point towards your head.
forearm extensor stretch
4) With your other arm reach over the top of the arm you are stretching and grip the index and middle fingers.
forearm extensor stretch
5) If your forearm is too tight or painful for the previous steps to work, this is an alternative way of doing it. Holding your arm out straight, bend your wrist down and point your index and middle fingers towards yourself.
forearm extensor stretch
6) Grip your index and middle fingers and pull them towards yourself.
forearm flexor stretch

1) Hold your arm straight out in front of yourself.

2) Make sure your elbow is straight.

forearm flexor stretch

3) Extend your wrist so that your fingers point to the ceiling.

4) Grip your fingers with your opposite hand and pull towards your face.

QL stretch
1) Place the arm of the side you wish to stretch on the back of your head.
QL stretch
2) Bend forwards from your hips to about 45 degrees. Make sure not to bend your back.
QL stretch
3) Sidebend away from the side you wish to stretch. You can also additionally try to rotate your upper body away from the side you are stretching if you feel that increases the degree of stretch.
Thumb stretch
1) Put your thumb onto a firm edge and gently begin to push your hand down while you keep your thumb relaxed. Hold it steady when you begin to feel a stretch in the muscles between your thumb and index finger.
Thumb stretch
2) Another way of stretching this area if no edges are handy is to use your other hand. Position the little finger of your opposite hand at the base of your index finger.
Thumb stretch
3) Slide the opposite hand down your thumb until you feel a stretch between your index finger and thumb.
Pectoral stretch
1) Place your arm out behind you up against a wall or a door frame. If you would like to target the main aspect of your pectoral muscles, try to keep the arm at about 90 degrees to you shoulder.
Pectoral stretch
2) If you would like to target the smaller, more postural parts of the pectoral muscles put the arm out at about 45 degrees instead.
Pectoral stretch
3) Keep your shoulder relaxed and turn away from the wall or door frame. Be aware that your may notice some tingling in your hand on the side you are stretching while you are applying the stretch. This should go away within several seconds after you finish your stretch.
abdominal workout
1) These abdominal exercises are safe to do for back pain suffers as an introduction to both core stability and abdominal strength without compromising the lower back. Lay flat on your back with your knees up at around 90 degrees to the floor.
abdominal workout
2) Using just your abdominal muscles try to pull the front of your pelvis towards your head and vice versa. Make sure that your neck stays fully relaxed and focus on not using your hip muscles to do the crunch. You will not produce much movement - this is intentional, but you will feel a fair amount of strain on your abdominal muscles.
abdominal workout
3) Next - in order to work out your oblique abdominal muscles, try to tilt your knees and bring them to your opposite elbow.
abdominal workout
4) Then go in the other direction. The entire time your lower back shouldn't leave the floor.
breathing diaphragm exercise

1) Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your lower ribs.

2) Try to breathe in such a way that the hand on your chest moves less than the one on your lower ribs. Focus on breathing 'into your stomach'.

breathing diaphragm exercise

3) Once you feel you have got the hang of that put both hands onto your lower ribs.

4) Try to 'breathe them apart' by breathing slowly (about 5-6 seconds to breathe in and 5-6 seconds to breathe out) 'into your abdomen' for as many breaths as you feel comfortable. Usually 10-15 is sufficient. Repeat several times per day. If you wish you can also focus your mind on relaxing and just following your breath in and out.

core stability exercise
1) Laying flat on your back, slide a hand under your lower back. Focus on contracting your lower abdominal muscles to tilt your pelvis upwards and flatten the lower part of the lower back against your hand.
core stability exercise
2) The second contraction you need is the pelvic floor. Place two fingers over the front of your pelvic bone. Make the same contraction as when you want to stop taking a pee. You should feel a muscle pop up under your fingers. Try to hold the contraction from step 1 and this one together for as long as you can - then relax for the same amount of time. Do 15 repetitions like this. Gradually try to extend how long you can hold each contraction with the aim of at least 15 seconds. First master this laying down. Then try doing it sitting in a firm chair. Then try to do it standing.
core stability exercise
3) You should have mastered the previous two steps before advancing onto these next steps. Go on all fours. Keep your thighs at around 90 degrees to your lower legs and your back straight. Then put on the same core contractions from steps 1 and 2 while maintaining the aforementioned.
core stability exercise
4) Once you have mastered the previous step additionally try to hold your arm out straight infront of you. You must keep your neck straight and relaxed. Then try the other arm - all the while holding the original two core contractions.
core stability exercise
5) Next try to do the same with one leg and then the other. Don't allow your back to sag or your leg / hip drop. Finally attempt to raise your left arm and right leg at the same time. Then swap to the opposite - right arm and left leg.
core stability exercise
6) Your form throughout these exercises is very important. You must prevent your shoulders from raising too high or dropping too low.
core stability exercise
7) Similarly when you are raising your leg(s) your must keep your hips and pelvis level and your weight in the mid-line without shifting it over the opposite knee that is still on the ground.
standing lunge stretch
1) Lift the opposite foot from the side you wish to stretch up onto something. Tilt your pelvis up - or if you imagine you had a tail - tuck it between your legs. Then slowly lunge forwards.
standing lunge stretch
2) Make sure you are not letting your lower back extend as this will both diminish the strength of the stretch and risk injury to your lower back.
standing lunge stretch
3) You should feel a stretch at the front of your hip area.
kneeling lunge stretch
1) Kneel on the knee of the side you wish to stretch. If your knees are sensitive you can place a folded towel or a sponge under your knee. Tilt your pelvis up - or if you imagine you had a tail - tuck it between your legs.
kneeling lunge stretch
2) Once your pelvis is tucked in your lower back should be straight.
kneeling lunge stretch
3) Next - start to lunge forward slowly while maintaining a straight lower back. You should feel a stretch at the front of the hip and slightly down into the front of the thigh.
kneeling lunge stretch
4) Make sure that at all times you are not allowing your lower back to extend.
piriformis stretch
1) Sit on a firm chair and bring up the leg of the side you want to stretch. Leave a gap between your legs.
piriformis stretch
2) Interlace your fingers on the outer side of your knee and pull it across to your opposite shoulder.
piriformis stretch
3) You should feel a stretch across the back of your hip area.
piriformis stretch
4) Make sure that you are not bending any part of your back while performing this stretch.
piriformis stretch
5) An alternative way of doing this stretch is laying on your back and pulling your leg across yourself until you feel a stretch at the back of the hip area. This way does put some strain on the lower back, but as long as you have no problems in that region, it will not cause any harm.
gluteal stretch
1) Sit on a firm chair and bring up the leg of the side you want to stretch. Try to lay the leg as flat as it can go.
gluteal stretch
2) If your gluts are tight, your leg will not be able to lay completely flat. This is normal and it will be your measure of progress over time as you continue to do the stretch. As your gluteal flexibility improves, your leg will lay more flat.
gluteal stretch
3) Keeping your back straight bend forward.
gluteal stretch
4) Make sure that you are not bending any part of your back while performing this stretch.
gluteal stretch
5) An alternative way of doing this stretch is laying on your back, crossing one leg across the other, gripping the opposite one of the side you wish to stretch and pulling them up together towards your chest.
adductor stretch
1) Stand with your legs apart but straight. Tilt the hip in on the side you would like to stretch.
adductor stretch
2) Slowly start to bring your weight onto the opposite leg and begin to bend the knee until you feel a stretch along the inside of the leg which is straight.
adductor stretch
3) You can make the stretch slightly stronger if you turn your pelvis away from the leg you are stretching.
hamstring stretch
1) Place the foot of the side you wish to stretch onto a chair. Keep the knee slightly bent.
hamstring stretch
2) Keeping your lower back straight, bend forward towards your leg until you feel a stretch in the hamstring area.
hamstring stretch
3) If you need to increase the strength of the stretch, gradually begin to straighten the knee. Or if you would like to stretch all elements of the back of your whole leg, start the stretch with a straight leg instead of flexing your knee.
hamstring stretch
4) Make sure that at all times you are not allowing your lower back to bend as it will put a strain through your lower back as well as decreasing the effectiveness of the stretch.
quadriceps stretch
1) Bring the leg you wish to stretch up behind your buttocks and grip your foot.
quadriceps stretch
2) Tuck your pelvis up - or if you imagine you had a tail tuck it between your legs - this will decrease the amount of bend you have to put through your knee in order to feel the stretch. If you have knee problems you will still be able to do this stretch in this fashion. At the same time gradually begin to pull your knee backwards while keeping your lower back straight and you should feel a stretch at the front of your thigh.
quadriceps stretch
3) Make sure that at all times you are not allowing your lower back to extend.
quadriceps stretch
4) You can also grip your foot with your opposite hand. All the other steps are exactly the same. This variation will focus the stretch to the outside quadriceps and your ITB to an extent.
calf stretch
1) Place your foot on the edge of something such as a step on a staircase, roadside kerb, a brick, a copy of the yellow pages, etc.
calf stretch
2) Begin to bring your hip forwards, towards your foot while keeping your knee straight. You will feel a stretch through your calf.
calf stretch
3) Make sure that you are not leaving your hip behind and just bringing your shoulders forward. This will strain your lower back or mid back and decrease the effectiveness of the stretch.
shin stretch
1) Bring the leg you wish to stretch up.
2) Grip your toes and pull them towards yourself.
shin stretch
3) At the same time, using your hand, pull your foot up towards your head. The leg should remain completely relaxed.
4) You should feel a stretch along the front of your lower leg next to your shin.
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