Top 12 Pulled Back Exercises and Stretches To Recover

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Pulled Back Exercises

Pulled-back exercises can increase blood flow to the injured tissues and speed the recovery process.

Furthermore, continuing to perform them after rehabilitation can prevent future injuries by promoting muscular strength and flexibility.

Keep on reading to learn what a pull is and how you can treat or prevent one with the following movements.

Identifying a Pulled Back Muscle

Identifying a pulled muscle is relatively straightforward.

The pain tends to be acute (sharp and rapid) and causes muscle spasms and/or swelling in a precise region of the back.

Movement in that area during normal activities may be hindered as well.

Do not take this advice as a medical diagnosis.

7 Back Strengthening Exercises for a Pulled Muscle

Once a doctor clears you for exercise, choose a few of these strength movements to perform 2-3 days per week.

You may feel a spread of muscle soreness after each session, this is normal.

Sensations of precise sharp pain are not.

1. Bridges

Bridges hit the pelvic region and isometrically contract the lower back muscles.

This is great for building strength in the supporting muscles without overworking the injury.

  1. Lay on your back with your knees bent and hands/feet flat on the floor.
  2. Engage your core.
  3. Move your hips toward the ceiling until they form a straight line between your thighs and shoulders.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds before lowering your butt to the floor.
  5. Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.

Alteration: Make bridges harder by crossing your arms over your chest.

2. Cat-Camel

The cat-camel (or cow) is used to regain spinal mobility (specifically flexing and extending) after suffering a back injury.

  1. Assume a tabletop position so that your knees are stacked under your hips, and palms under your shoulders.
  2. Inhale as you flex your spine toward the ceiling, creating a hump.
  3. Your head should face the floor during this phase.
  4. Then, exhale and extend your spine, which will cause the abdomen to sink toward the floor.
  5. Your head should face forward during this phase.
  6. Continue alternating phases for 1-2 sets of 5-10 reps.

Alteration: If you experience excruciating pain in either the cat or camel phase reduce the range of motion to what you can handle.

3. Prone Press-Up

Prone press-ups are straight out of the McKenzie method handbook.

They can provide relief from low back pain by enhancing circulation.

Plus, you’ll get a decent tricep pump 🙂

  1. Lie prone with your ankles relaxed and palms aligned flat under your shoulders.
  2. Use your hands to press your upper body off the floor, without raising your hips.
  3. This should form a curve in your lower back.
  4. Look a few feet ahead as you hold for 3-5 seconds.
  5. Slowly lower to the starting position and repeat 10 times.

Alteration: Prop onto your elbows and do isometric holds until you build enough muscle strength to press onto your hands.

4. Scapular Retraction

Scapular retraction targets the upper back.

Consider practicing these if your pain stems from the neck, traps, or shoulders.

  1. Sit upright with your hands clasped behind your buttocks.
  2. Pull your shoulder blades back and together.
  3. Squeeze for 5-10 seconds.
  4. Relax the upper back.
  5. Perform 3 sets of 5-10 reps.

Alteration: Raise your shoulder blades upwards before pulling them backward.

5. Pelvic Tilt

Pelvic tilts provide your back more support as they build strength and control of the abdominal muscles.

Weakness in this area causes slumped posture, which irritates the pulled back.

  1. Lie supine with your knees bent and feet flat.
  2. Extend your arms outward with palms on the floor to form a cross shape.
  3. Tighten your glutes and abdominal muscles to pull your lower back against the floor.
  4. Release after 10 seconds.
  5. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

Alteration: Execute pelvic tilts while standing with your back against a wall.

6. Wall Sit

Wall sits are a static exercise so you’ll be isolating the lower back and leg muscles without having to perform uneasy motions.

  1. Stand with your back against the wall and feet hip-width apart.
  2. Walk your lower body a few feet away from the wall while simultaneously sliding your torso downward.
  3. Stop once your legs bend to 90 degrees, or go as far as your mobility allows.
  4. Press your body weight onto your heels and quads while keeping your lower back pressed against the wall.
  5. Hold for as long as you can without compromising form.

Alteration: Externally rotate your arms at 90 degrees with the fingers pointing upwards and place them against the wall to engage the upper back.

7. Legs-Only Bird Dog

The legs-only bird dog is a great way to deliver circulation and promote healing of a lower back muscle strain specifically.

  1. Prop onto the ground with your knees under the hips, and palms under the shoulders.
  2. Maintain a neutral spine and head.
  3. Extend your right leg back until it’s straight in line with your torso, making sure to flex the ankle.
  4. Return it to the floor and switch to the other leg.
  5. Continue alternating for 3 sets of 12 total reps.

Alteration: For muscle strains in the upper back you can add shoulder flexion.

To do this, you’d raise one arm forward while extending the opposite leg backward.

5 Pulled Back Stretching Exercises

Perform these stretches slowly, and only go as far as your flexibility and pain allow.

Do them in the morning, evening, or after your strength exercises.

1. Knee to Chest

When the booty is tight the lower back is forced to compensate and becomes tense itself.

To reduce this, the knee-to-chest helps stretch the glutes.

  1. Begin lying on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Engage your core muscles.
  3. Pull one knee toward your chest to feel a gentle stretch.
  4. Use your hands to deepen the stretch.
  5. Hold for 30 seconds before switching knees.

Alteration: Pull both knees to your chest at the same time to achieve a more even stretch, or to save time.

2. Child’s Pose

The child’s pose is wonderful for releasing tension in the back, hips, and quads, while also improving glenohumeral joint mobility.

I tend to feel this stretch the most in my lats.

  1. Assume a tabletop pose.
  2. Sit back onto your ankles so that your abdominals are resting on top of your thighs.
  3. Reach your hands out in front of you with your palms on the floor.
  4. Rest your head between your shoulders.
  5. Maintain this pose for 15-30 seconds.

Alteration: Turn this into a unilateral stretch by placing one hand on the ground, closer to the midline.

Use the freehand as a stilt.

3. Supine Piriformis Stretch

If the discomfort feels like it’s stemming from your lower back muscles this might be the stretch for you.

When the piriformis muscle is tight it can pinch nerves in your gluteal region, causing or worsening lower back pain.

  1. Lay flat facing the ceiling with your legs bent and feet facedown.
  2. Cross your right ankle over your left knee.
  3. Slowly raise the left leg toward your chest, using your hands to pull it as close as you can.
  4. You’ll feel this in your butt and hamstrings.
  5. Hold for 30 seconds.
  6. Focus on the painful side for 2-3 sets.

Alteration: Pull the crossed leg toward the opposite side for a more intense stretch.

4. Supine Trunk Rotation

Supine trunk rotations work well for strengthening the abdominal muscles and lengthening the lateral trunk.

  1. Lay supine with your legs bent and feet prone.
  2. Set your arms by your sides with the palms facedown.
  3. Without twisting your torso, rotate your knees to the right.
  4. Reset them to the start, then turn to the left.
  5. Continue alternating directions for 5-10 reps.

Alteration: When rotating you can do static holds in either direction to emphasize stretching the trunk.

5. Seated Back Rotation

Seated back rotations help mobilize the thoracic (mid) spine.

Not only will this reduce pain from a pulled muscle, but enhance breathing too.

  1. Sit upright in a chair and cross your hands over your chest.
  2. Rotate your upper body in either direction without letting your hips move.
  3. Hold here for 5-10 seconds.
  4. Return to the front-facing position.
  5. Then rotate in the same or opposite direction for 5-10 repetitions.
  6. Switch directions.

Alteration: A similar twist can be performed sitting on the floor.

With your right leg straight, cross the left leg over top.

Extend your right arm onto the outer left thigh.

Twist your torso to the left and hold.

What Are Pulled Muscles?

Pulls are categorized as grade 2 strains or soft tissue injuries since they are caused by damage to the muscles and tendons that surround the back.

Causes and Diagnoses of a Pulled Back

Causes of a pulled muscle include:

  • Back injuries from under or overuse
  • Moving a heavy object with improper form
  • Sedentary lifestyle and long periods of sitting
  • Jolted movements

In terms of diagnosis, a doctor will do a physical examination to monitor your pain level and range of motion.

They may also review your medical history for other complications that could also be affecting your limitations, along with providing recommendations for recovery.

Symptoms To Watch For

Here are the symptoms to watch for if you believe you have pulled something in your back:

  • Trouble bending and moving
  • Proximal mild to severe pain in the back
  • Radiating pain in the neck, shoulders, or lower limbs.
  • Muscle spasms, stiffness, or swelling

Methods To Promote the Healing Process

After pulling a muscle it’s critical to remain active and get bed rest to promote tissue healing.

However, too much of either isn’t optimal.

Focus on rest until the acute pain lessens, then implement low-impact exercise into your routine at least 2-3 days per week.

To reduce the swelling you can:

  • Apply heat for 20 minutes and alternate with an ice pack for the same duration (every 3 hours).
  • Wear a compression wrap or belt around the injury.
  • Elevate the pulled muscle above your heart if it’s in the upper back, otherwise, sleep in a lengthened position on your side.

Pulled vs. Strained Muscle: Are They Different?

Both a pull and back strain occurs when a muscle or tendon overstretches or tears.

The difference is that strains TEND to be chronic from longer-term repetitive stress.

Whereas pulls are acute, meaning they can happen quickly and without warning.

Neither of these should be confused with a sprain, which happens when a ligament stretches or rips under too much pressure.

FAQ About Pulled Back Muscles

How Long Does It Take for a Pulled-Back Muscle To Heal?

It tends to take 2 to 3 months for a pulled-back muscle to fully heal.

The duration can be shorter (within two weeks) or longer (upwards of 4 months), depending on severity and recovery protocol.

What Is the Fastest Way To Heal a Pulled-Back Muscle?

The fastest way to heal a pulled-back muscle is by managing blood flow and swelling.

A strategy explained by Adrienne Dellwo is Movement (low-impact exercise), Elevation (setting your injury above your heart while resting), and Heat (30 minutes on the affected area).

Should I Stretch My Back if I Pulled It?

You should wait to stretch your back if you pulled it until the acute pain begins to subside.

This is typically 2-3 days after the initial injury.

Will a Pulled Back Heal Itself?

A mildly pulled back will usually heal itself within 2 to 4 weeks as long as the individual is remaining active without over-exerting the muscle, while also getting adequate rest.


Eric De Cremer
Eric De Cremer

Eric is an NCCA-accredited Certified Personal Trainer and competitively trained powerlifter. Feel free to contact him anytime at!