The cat and needle serve a similar purpose to the figure of 8, but the movements are more exaggerated. This means that you’ll feel more of a stretch, rather than just working through the joints, but also that it’s much less focused. For this reason I generally don’t give this exercise to people with lower back pain.

Cat Stretch

Start on your hands and knees with your hips at 90°. Keeping those points of contact with the floor, bring your back up and your head down (flexion). Hold for a couple of seconds if necessary, and then invert the movement. As your head comes up and your back dips (extension), you’ll probably feel the movement coming more from your lower back than from the mid or upper. Repeat these motions as much as you need to in order to feel looser.

Threading the Needle

You can move straight into this from the same starting position as above. Just be sure to keep your back in a neutral position this time. You’re aiming for a relatively pure rotation movement without adding flexion or extension. This is when you’re most likely to feel or hear some pops from your back- as long as this is not uncomfortable then you can continue. You might find that you benefit from varying angles in this phase. If you’re reaching straight out to the opposite side (9 o’clock or 3 o’clock), try ranging from 2-4 or 8-10 o’clock.


For people who struggle to get onto the floor or find it uncomfortable to kneel, this exercise can be adapted. Standing with your hands on a table, worktop, or banister, use movement of the pelvis to get the same kind of flexion and extension movement through the back. For the needle part of the exercise, find a neutral position for the pelvis so you’re in a stable pose.

Repeat these as required. I tend to ask my patients to do these in the morning and evening as I understand they might not be too comfortable to do at work!

Main muscles targeted: thoracic and lumbar erector spinae (TES & LES), rhomboids, quadratus lumborum (QL)

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