L3 (Lower Back) Flexibility Help Please?


I’ve been told by a physiotherapist that I’ve got a tight/inflexible L3, whilst the rest of my back is flexible. I do have to set at a desk a lot, I blame this :). Unfortunately I ran out of money to see the therapist, so I was hoping to get some help here.

My lower back, just above my arse, does often feel tight, and I feel it restricts lots of movements. For example, in football (‘soccer’), if I lunge or stick a foot out to nick the ball, I often feel limited. Also with squats and deadlifts I have to get really warm or the movements feel limited by the back.

I already find that leg swings (forward and back) help loosen it, particularly the backwards part of the movement. I also do lots of moves like supermans/cobras and the camel yoga thing. Can anyone recommend any other movements to -

A) Warm up the lower back pre-sport/lifting
B) Stretch the back out post-sport/lifting
C) pre-hap/actively improve the lower back strength/flexibility

Thanks for any help,

the function of the lumbar spine is stability rather than mobility. the mobility is supposed to come from the upper region (the thoracic spine) and the lower region (the hips). problems arise when areas that are supposed to be mobile (the thoracic spine and / or the hips) lack the requisite mobility which forces the lumbar spine (which is supposed to be immobile) to mobilize.

don’t stretch / attempt to get movement from your lumbar spine. leave the area the hell alone. work hard on developing good mobility in your thoracic spine and your hips.

i got this information from several articles on this website. if you do a google in site search you should be able to find them. the idea that the joints are stacked alternating mobility / stability. that the lumbar region is supposed to be stable. the idea that problems with the lumbar region arise from people inappropriately trying to mobilize it along with problematic immobility of the thoracic spine and hips.

in a movement like a leg raise… your leg is supposed to be able to swing freely. you should be able to put your hands on your front and back (around your lumbar region) and your torso should not move while your leg swings freely. if you can’t swing your leg freely of your torso (if your lumbar spine needs to move with your leg) then it shows you that you need to work on freeing your legs from your torso (getting better hip mobility).

your physio sounds totally dubious…

Thanks for your reply, Alexus.

This is really interesting. I’m going to do some reading this evening to try and work this out.
However, just to clarify what you’re saying - If I’m standing up and swing my leg backwards, whilst keeping it straight, I get a pain/stiffness in the area that’s on both sides of my back, just above my arse crack.

So are you saying that
A) this pain is not because that area is not flexible enough, but becuase it’s being forced to flex when it should not flex.
And B) that it is being forced to flex on the backwards part of the leg swing because my hip is too tight?

That’s really interesting and could explain a lot if I have understood you correctly. And could this tightness of the hip be causing, directly or indirectly, this feeling in my lower back when I’m squating before totally warming up?

Oh, and what keywords have you used? I’ve tried searching with ‘l3’ and also with ‘hips’ but I can’t find what seems to be the same as my problem?

could be your hip flexors. they are problematic for a LOT of people.

if you sit on your butt a lot (like most of us do) driving or working or watching tv or whatever… your hip flexors are in a shortened position. over time… they start to shrink. people get anterior pelvic tilt where the hip flexors running (sorta) from the front of the femur near the top of the quads up through your pelvis attaching in your lumbar spine start to pull the torso forwards (closing the hip angle).

people often find they get lumbar pain from their short hip flexors. they feel like they want to stretch their back out into flexion and they often find painful muscle knots in the lumbar region.

i think it is possible for a good ART therapist / physio to work on your hip flexors around the lumbar region… but my own personal experience with that is trying to release the knots gives me lower back injury. best thing for me anyway is to leave the lumbar region the hell alone and work on my hip flexors from the front - the upper quad and digging them out a little round the pelvis (they are behind the abs).

short hip flexors results in inactive glutes.

the idea is to get the hip flexors to lengthen and relax (stretching and soft tissue work)
and to get the glutes activating properly (so your butt works to pull your leg back rather than your lower back)

EVA foam roller (leave the lumbar spine alone!) and a lacross ball are my new best friends. hip flexors are tricky, pesky things, but really does sound to me like the problem is that your hips are immobile…

anterior pelvic tilt
hip flexors
lumbar pain
glute activation

i’d have a search for stuff like that…

some of this may be helpful

Agree with Alexus on the hip flexors being a potential root of the problem. I suffer the same, office desk bound all day, shortened hip flexors, low back aches.

Another good warm up the for the lower back is windmills - this will mobilse the SI joint as well as your leg swings you are doing.

I would recommend you go and see a Level 4 back pain practitioner.

Pretty dang good posts alexus. You did a nice job of explaining that.


Just to explain what your physio was probably referring to (I am just assuming here based off of the information you have given) is that you have a hypomobile L3, meaning that the L3 specifically is not moving in conjunction with the rest of the lumbar spine (could be in extension, rotation, flexion, or a combination). I would never recommend somebody to try and fix that on their own with manual techniques, but what alexus recommended will help sort out the surrounding issues that may be contributing to the hypomobility of your L3. The hypomobility might be due a facet issue or many other factors. To manually address whatever the issue is, I would only recommend going back to your physio or other manual therapist. But again, the active/exercise advice that alexus gave is sound.

I agree with the bulk of what alexus stated regarding the lumbar spine, thoracic spine, joint stacking, etc. The lumbar spine is meant to be a base of support and stability for the spine/body, but that doesn’t mean that the lumbar spine does not move. If you were unable to get the limited mobility that the lumbar spine is supposed to manage, then you would be hard pressed to perform some of the most basic active daily functions, such as tying your shoes. Creating mobility at the lumbar spine should not be a focus of a person’s training nor should somebody allow lumbar flexion to occur under a load, but in cases of injury/pathology, manual techniques to get the spine segments moving properly may by necessary. I don’t think your physio was saying that you need to “loosen up your back” or anything of that sort; more stating that your pain is being caused by a spinal segment that is not gliding properly.