Using Exercise to Ease Lower Back Pain

When it feels as though someone is holding a blowtorch to your lower back or stomping on your spine, chances are that you would rather crawl into bed and hibernate than hit the gym.

However once you have relieved the worst of your lower back pain with medication, ice, or another treatment your doctor recommends, getting into a regular workout schedule is actually one of the best ways to speed up your recovery. It can also help to prevent future episodes of lower back pain.

So what exercises can help your back pain? Strengthening and stretching exercises help keep the muscles, joints, ligaments, and discs that support your back limber and healthy.

In fact, one study found that men and women with chronic low back pain who worked out with weights four days a week had 28% less pain and 36% less disability than people who didn’t exercise as often.

Your doctor may recommend that you do back exercises once or twice a day for 10 to 30 minutes at a time while you are recovering. Try to work up to at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day.

Exercises for Low Back Pain

According to research, strength training and stretching may be the most effective lower back exercises.

Strength training

Strength training exercises can help you build stronger muscles, especially the core muscles of the abs, lower back, pelvis and hips, which support your back. Isometric exercises, in which you contract the muscle and hold it (for example, by pressing against a wall) may be easier than lifting weights for some people with lower back pain. Adding an exercise ball to your routine can help stabilise your core while you exercise. A specific type of exercise that strengthens and helps you gain more control over your trunk muscles (called motor control exercises) appears to be especially good for combating low back pain and disability.


Stretching keeps your muscles more flexible which means that you are less likely to injure them. It also can relieve tight spots in your back and elsewhere in your body and improve your range of motion. Remember to move slowly in to and out of each stretch while breathing deeply. Try to hold each stretch for at least five seconds. Never stretch past your limits. If it hurts, stop.

Yoga or Body Balance, with its series of poses that incorporate stretching and strengthening, can be good exercise for lower back pain. According to studies, taking these styles of classes can improve lower back pain and function better than conventional treatment alone. And if you’ve been feeling down about your achy back, yoga or Body Balance might even improve your mood.

Aerobic exercises

Aerobic exercises such as walking, biking, or dancing, get your heart pumping, increase your cardiovascular fitness, and keep your body in overall better health. Sometimes non-impact aerobic exercises like swimming are easier and more comfortable for people with lower back pain.

Whenever you exercise, don’t forget to take time to focus on your breathing. Deep breathing and relaxation training improve oxygen flow to your muscles. They’re also great ways to relieve stress, which can cause muscles to tense up and trigger low back pain.

The Right Way to Do Back Exercises

As you get ready to launch into a lower back exercise program, don’t go it alone. In the beginning it is better to see an exercise physiologist or talk with a personal trainer to help design a workout program that works for you.

They can make sure you’re doing the exercises properly and monitor your progress. One on one sessions can help you learn how to stretch and strengthen your back muscles and the muscles that support them correctly. Your trainer or physiologist will also be able to teach you how to stand and sit to prevent strain and pain.

When you first begin your exercise program, go slowly and gradually work your way up to longer and more intense workouts, but always be conscious of your limits. Avoid any exercises that can aggravate your low back pain, including straight leg sit-ups, leg lifts while lying on your back, or lifting heavy weights above your waist. And remember it is very important to never work out to the point of pain.

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