Exercises For Lower Back Pain


Because back pain is one of America’s most chronic and debilitating ailments, exercises for lower back pain are frequently researched, developed and prescribed.  If you suffer from back pain, you are probably wondering which exercises for back pain have been proven to safely and effectively treat your pain, while preventing future flare-ups.

Back pain can be caused by many factors, including:

  • poor posture
  • problems within the spinal column
  • being overweight 
  • some diseases, such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis


Though there are many different, unrelated back pain causes, there is scientific evidence that exercises for back pain successfully bring relief, no matter which pain-causing condition is responsible. 

How does exercise help curb the pain and discomfort?  The answer is that proper exercises for back pain help to strengthen the abdominal muscles as well as the lumbar (lower) spine, preventing further strain or misalignment.  Research also shows that the best exercises for lower back pain work by increasing the endurance of back muscles, as opposed to increasing their sheer strength.  This means that effective exercises for back pain involve high numbers of repetitions, but low resistance (weight).

While there are endless possibilities for back pain exercises using gym equipment, weight machines, or free weights, some of the best exercises for lower back pain are the type you can do anywhere, anytime, with no special equipment!

Before beginning any exercises for back pain, be sure to:

  • check with your doctor to make sure it is safe for you to initiate an exercise regimen.
  • walk briskly for a few minutes to warm up your muscles.

Here are some examples of safe, effective exercises for lower back pain:

CAT & COW:  Get down on your hands and knees on the floor.  Your back should be parallel to the floor, and your shoulders and hips should be square.  This exercise is performed by alternating between the “cat” and “cow” positions with an even, fluid movement.  To perform the “cat,” lower your chin toward the floor, and at the same time, arch your back upward; without stopping, go into the “cow” position by lifting your chin upward and sinking your back so that your belly hangs down.  Alternate between the “cat” and “cow” 5 to 10 times.

BIRD DOG:  Get down on your hands and knees on the floor.  Look down at the floor.  Contract your “core” muscles (front and side abdominals), and then extend your left leg straight behind you, as you extend your right arm out in front of you. Slowly lower your arm and leg back to the floor, and then repeat the movements with the other leg and the other arm.  Do two sets of 10.

SIDE PLANK:  Lie on your left side on the floor.  Resting your bodyweight on your left elbow and the sides of your feet, lift your body, keeping your spine straight, so that your left hip comes off of the floor.  Your body is now resting only on your hand, forearm, elbow, and the sides of your feet.  Lower your body back to the starting position.  If this exercise is too difficult, it can be modified by bending your knees, and using your knee instead of your feet to balance.

In addition to the exercises described above, research suggests that other low-impact exercise can be beneficial for maintaining a healthy, pain-free back.  Good examples of such activities include:

  • swimming
  • Pilates
  • aerobics
  • walking
  • yoga

Just as we have mentioned several beneficial exercises for lower back pain, there are also specific types of exercise you should avoid if you are experiencing back pain:

  • leg-lifts
  • dead lifts
  • bike racing
  • in-line skating
  • windsurfing
  • golf
  • tennis
  • basketball
  • racquetball
  • football

Though back pain can be an incapacitating condition that often recurs, it can be managed and prevented:  proper exercise technique and a few minutes each day may be all you need to successfully free yourself from back pain.


More than exercises for lower back pain on our main back pain page

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