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Exercises that help with low back pain

GEHA | November 1, 2021

These exercises can strengthen your back and help support your spine.

Back pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor or miss work. It is also a leading cause of disability.

Back pain can range from a muscle ache to a shooting, burning or stabbing sensation. The pain may radiate down your leg or get worse when you bend, twist, lift, stand or walk.

There are things you can do to prevent or relieve most back pain episodes. If prevention fails, simple home treatment and proper body movements often will heal your back within a few weeks. Surgery is rarely needed to treat back pain.

Moving is good for your back. Exercises for lower back pain can strengthen back, core and leg muscles, and help support your spine, which can relieve back pain.

Good and bad exercises for low back pain

  • Avoid standing toe touches. These could put greater stress on the discs and ligaments in your spine.
  • Avoid sit-ups. When doing sit-ups, people tend to use muscles in their hips. Sit-ups may also put a lot of pressure on the discs in your spine.
  • Avoid leg lifts. Lifting both legs together while lying on your back is very demanding on your core. If weak, this can make back pain worse. Instead, keep one knee bent while slowly lifting your straight leg. Repeat with the other leg.
  • Try partial crunches to help strengthen your back and stomach muscles. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor, cross your arms over your chest or put your hands behind your neck. Tighten your stomach muscles and raise your shoulders off the floor.
  • Try hamstring stretches to stretch the muscle on the back of your leg.
  • Try wall sits. With your back against a wall, slowly slide down until your knees are slightly bent, pressing your lower back into the wall.
  • Try knee to chest. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bring one knee to your chest, keeping the other foot flat on the floor. Repeat with the other leg.
  • Try pelvic tilts. Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on floor. Tighten your core muscles, feeling your back press into the floor and your hips and pelvis rocking back. Imagine pouring a cup of water toward your bully button.
  • Try bridging. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Squeeze your buttocks and lift your hips off the floor.
  • Try pilates moves. Pilates combines stretching, strengthening and core abdominal exercises. Under the instruction of an experienced teacher, it may help with back pain.

Improving your physical condition and practicing proper body mechanics could help you avoid back pain or prevent its recurrence. Talk to your health care professional before doing any exercise for back pain.

“Low Back Pain – Symptoms and Causes.”, Mayo Clinic, 21 August, 2020.
“Good and Bad Exercises for Low Back Pain.”, WebMD, LLC, 17 December, 2020 (medically reviewed on May 29, 2023).