Did you know that the bones that make up your spine are supported by muscles that run the length of your spinal cord? And just like other muscles in your body, these muscles can tighten up, get sore, and cause pain. Doing some simple stretches for your back can help relieve back pain. There are dozens of stretches you can do for your back, but they only work if you do them correctly.

Here are five tips to get the most out of stretching:

  • Dress for Success. Wear comfortable clothes that move with your body. Often times, when people think of comfortable clothes, they think of sweat pants and loose t-shirts. While those may be comfortable, sometimes the loose fabric means that your limbs actually get stuck at weird angles inside your clothes, ultimately limiting movement. Wear clothes that move with your body, like yoga pants, athletic shorts, or an athletic shirt made with compression fabric.
  • Be Gentle. Never force your body into complex, difficult positions. You should never feel intense, sharp pain while you stretch. Ease into your stretches a little at a time, and breathe deeply to help your body and muscles relax. Over time, stretching can help increase your flexibility and relieve the tightness and soreness in your back.
  • Move Slowly. When you stretch, move in slow, controlled motions that are fluid and natural. Don’t bounce or make quick movements. Stretching is about elongating tight muscle fibers, and that works best when you slowly apply pressure to the muscles with stretches that let them “unwind.”
  • Find the Right Spot. Stretch in a place that is free of obstacles, so that you can easily change positions and move your body in all directions. Carpet may add padding for some of your stretches, but the texture of it can also make it difficult to slide your feet or move your body in fluid motions. Try to find a clean, flat surface to stretch on, like a tile or wood floor, and place a yoga mat on top for cushioning.
  • Take Your Time. When you stretch, you should hold your stretches for 20–30 seconds each. This gives your muscles time to relax and get loose–the whole point of stretching. Slowly release the pose and repeat it up to 10 times before moving on to another stretch.

Remember to talk with your doctor, physical therapist, or healthcare provider before adding stretching, or any other physical activity, to the management of your back pain.