For people with back pain, exercising can be a frightening thought. “Is that going to hurt?” is often the first overriding thing that comes to mind.
The fact is, exercise is essential in helping improve back pain. The proper movements boost flexibility, increase blood circulation, and strengthen weak core muscles that can all expedite your recovery.
You just need to know which back exercises to do and which ones to avoid.
Here are 8 proven low impact exercises that you can try to ease the pain in your back.
1. Knee to Chest Exercise
Knee to chest exercise is an effective way to stretch the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. Stretching these muscle groups helps prevent injury to your lower back, makes them more flexible, and soothes pain or tension.
- Start by lying on your back.
- Bend the knees ensuring your feet stay flat on the floor.
- Gently raise your right bent knee (left foot remains in place) till you can hold your lower leg with your hands.
- Pull your knee to your chest and hold it there for 5 – 20 seconds.
- Return your right knee to the starting position.
- Now do the same with your left knee.
Do this two or three times daily.
2. Bird-Dog Exercise
The bird-dog involves simple movements that improve stability, relieve pain in your lower back, promote proper posture, and strengthen the core, back, and hip muscles. It’s an excellent choice for stretching and strengthening your lower back.
- Get on all fours
- Kick your right leg straight behind you while reaching your left arm forward
- Hold this position for 10 seconds
- Repeat 15 times then shift to your left leg and right arm
If your knees feel irritated while exercising try doubling your mat.
3. Thoracic Extension Stretch
Engaging in thoracic extension stretches helps prevent hip, lower back, upper back, shoulder, and neck pain. It’s also important for proper posture.
For this exercise, you’ll need a foam roller.
- Lie on your back
- Place the massage ball under your lower back muscles, being careful not to put all your weight on it
- Slowly circle the ball around the target area.
Repeat with all areas that feel tender
4. Standing Hamstring Stretch
The hamstring muscles are an important muscle group that commonly contribute to lower back pain. Engaging in hamstring stretch exercises stretches these muscles, strengthens your lower back, and helps relieve back pain.
- Stand upright with your back erect, knees straight, and your chest and butt out.
- Bend forward gently at the waist while keeping your arms loosely hanging down. Keep going until you feel a pulling sensation at the back of your thighs.
- Hold this position for 10 seconds.
- Raise yourself and repeat the exercise five times.
You can try to touch your toes but don’t strain while doing so as you may end up overstressing the ligaments and spinal discs.
This exercise is not recommended for anyone with lumbar herniated disc or spondylolisthesis, as it may exacerbate the pain.
5. Cat-Cow Stretch
For people with back pain, yoga offers many poses that are low impact and beneficial for the back.
The Cat-Cow stretch is a yoga pose that flows gently between two poses. It stretches and strengthens your spine and back, stretches your hips and abdomen, increases coordination, and improves postures.
The exercise produces a calming effect as you breathe in and out.
- Get on all fours ensuring that your wrists are directly under your shoulders and the knees under your hips. Your head should be in a neutral position with your gaze downwards.
- Move into Cow Pose by inhaling as you allow your spine to drop towards the mat. Lift your chest and look up at the ceiling.
- Broaden your shoulder blades and draw them away from your ears.
- Move into Cat Pose by exhaling and drawing your belly to the spine and rounding your back toward the ceiling. At this pose, your shoulders are rounded and you may feel the tension leaving your neck.
- As you inhale again, come back to the Cow Pose. Exhale as you go back to the Cat Pose.
As you repeat the exercise, you’ll feel your neck and hips loosen and your spine becoming warm and flexible. Complete three sets.
6. Back Extension
The back extension exercise helps coordinate movement through the lower back. This translates to a stronger back with better endurance and a better back posture.
- Lie on your stomach with your legs straight behind you
- Keep the elbows on the ground then slide your shoulders down
- Lift your upper back while pressing the hips into the mat. Ensure your head and neck stay neutral. Hold this position for 30 seconds
- Lower yourself to the starting position.
Repeat the exercise three times.
As with the Standing Hamstring stretch, this exercise is not recommended for those with herniated discs. Similarly, those with sensitive spinal nerves, poor back control, or are extremely overweight should avoid this exercise.
Swimming allows people with lower back pain to exercise effectively, since the buoyancy of water takes the pressure off the spine.
Certain strokes such as breaststroke or butterfly stroke cause an arch in the lower back which may be painful for those with back pain. Experts recommend working with backstroke to start.
Start with a 20 to 30-minute workout three times a week. Over time, you can increase the volume depending on how your back feels after the workout.
Staying active is a better way of dealing with lower back pain rather than resting. Start slowly then build up momentum as your back becomes stronger.
You may not be able to leave that day job that causes the pain, but you can maintain proper back alignment, improve muscle strength and prevent future injury with the exercises we’ve shared.
Enjoy your workouts.