Looking for Lower Back Pain Exercises
to help relieve your back pain?

If you are like millions of others experiencing lower back pain, you know incorporating lower back pain exercises is central to pain relief. What exercises are best? When should you exercise? What exercises help keep the pain from coming back?

What are the best lower back pain exercises?

One of the main difficulties in treating lower back pain is that not all back and sciatica symptoms are the same. Although symptoms may appear similar, the cause of the pain can be drastically different. For this reason, there is no one “magic bullet” lower back pain exercise program. Herniated disc exercises are completely different from spinal stenosis exercises. Thus, before initiating any exercise program, obtaining an accurate diagnosis is important. The exercises you should perform when experiencing acute back pain will be specific to that diagnosis.

That being said, there are some general exercise concepts we can apply when dealing with lower back pain.

One of the biggest errors made in treating lower back pain is overemphasizing abdominal strength. Unfortunately this myth continues to be perpetuated by non-medically trained fitness trainers. Abdominal strength is important but so is lower back extensor strength. And, when the abdominal muscles are trained too aggressively or too early for conditions such as a bulging disc, symptoms will actually get worse.

To address this issue we can do two things. First, any abdominal exercises should be isometric and done in a neutral position. This means contracting the abdominal muscles without actually performing movement (such as with a sit up). Second, for any abdominal exercise performed, a lower back exercise should be performed. This will help to keep balance between the abdominal muscles and lower back extensor muscles.

Another issue in regards to the lower back pain exercises is the emphasis of strengthening over stretching. Frequently people prefer to do strengthening exercises over stretching exercises. Having a balance of stretching and strengthening exercises is important to overall back health.

When should back exercises be done?

Again, when treating the lower back, the initial exercise program should be based on the specific diagnosis. In general, when symptoms are acute or elevated, stretching exercises should be performed to help minimize the pain. Performing strengthening exercises when pain is acute or significant will generally only aggravate symptoms. Utilize the specific stretching exercise program for your back condition, ice therapy, and anti-inflammatory medication to help relieve pain. As symptoms improve, strengthening exercises can be added.

General lower back exercises

Once your acute back symptoms have improved, incorporating a general back exercise program can be essential to helping minimize the return of lower back pain. A healthy back should be able to flex and extend so once pain has improved; performing exercises that incorporate both movements is allowed.

One aspect of exercise that research has identified as specifically helpful for lower back pain is walking. Initiating a walking program has consistently been associated with reduced lower back pain re-occurrence.

The following are examples of both stretching and strengthening exercises for maintaining lower back health. As always, these exercises should be performed pain free. If any exercises aggravate your lower back symptoms, stop.

General Lower Back Pain Exercises: Stretching

Prone on Elbows Stretch

Prone on Elbows Stretch

Find a firm place such as the floor to do this exercise. Lie on your stomach with your upper body propped up by your elbows with your elbows positioned directly under your shoulders. Try to keep your pelvis in contact with the ground. Hold this position for 30 seconds to a few minutes. Repeat this a few times a day.

Double Knee to Chest Stretch

Double Knee to Chest Stretch

Lie on your back on the floor or a firm surface. Using your hands for assistance, bring both knees up toward your chest. Be careful not to compress the knee. If knee pain occurs use your hands on the back of the thigh instead of the front of the knee. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds. Repeat three times, twice a day.

Piriformis Stretch

Piriformis Stretch

Lie on your back on the floor or firm surface. To stretch the right leg, place the right ankle on the left knee. While maintaining this position, bring the left leg up toward your chest. Use your hands on the back of the left thigh to assist with bringing the left knee up to your chest. You should feel the stretch in the buttocks of the right leg. Hold this stretch for 20 seconds. Repeat two times on each leg, two times a day.

Hamstring Stretch

Hamstring Stretch

Lie on your back on the floor or firm surface. Use a jump rope, dog leash, or belt, and hook it around the ball of your foot on the leg you will be stretching. Keeping the leg straight, use your arms with the rope to lift the leg up to the stretched position. The stretch should be felt in the back of the knee or back of the thigh. Hold this stretch for 60 seconds. Repeat two times for each leg, twice a day.

General Lower Back Pain Exercises: Strengthening

Prone Plank Exercise

Prone Plank

While on the floor, position your elbows directly under your shoulders. Slightly lift your body off the floor, keeping your spine in a neutral position. Hold this position for 10 to 60 seconds.

Low Back Bridges


Lie on your back with both knees bent. Keeping your stomach tight, slowly lift your buttocks up off the floor. Hold at the top for a count of 5 seconds. Repeat 2 sets of 10 repetitions.

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