How to Exercise with Lower Back Pain

Page content

Learning how to exercise with lower back pain is important. Those with lower back pain need to exercise, but they need to be careful in choosing the exercises they do. It is important to discuss all exercises with a doctor before doing them. In general, it is important to strengthen the lower back and core muscles and perform exercises that do not jar the spinal discs. Learning about the different exercises will help all lower back pain patients exercise and better cope with their pain.

Why Exercise with Lower Back Pain?

It is normal to rest and take it easy when lower back pain occurs. Many patients avoid strenuous activity and choose to become sedentary. Depending on the cause of the pain, this may be necessary short-term, but is not good long-term. When a patient remains sedentary for too long, it can actually result in delaying the healing process and lead to more pain. To help relieve the pain and rehabilitate the spine, exercise, specifically those targeting the lower back, are necessary.

When patients perform active back exercises in a gradual, controlled, and progressive manner, nutrients are transported to the back’s soft tissues and disc space, to keep the muscles, joints, discs, and ligaments healthy. Having a regular back exercise routine will help patients avoid weakness and stiffness, decrease how long the pain lasts and how severe it is, and minimize the recurrence of the pain.

Beneficial Exercises

Make sure to talk to your doctor before doing any exercises, especially when you are in pain.

Part of learning how to exercise with lower back pain is learning about stretching and the best stretches to do. The spinal column and its contiguous ligaments, tendons, and muscles are all made for movement. When movement is reduced, back pain can be accentuated. Stretching these soft tissues are crucial for gaining flexibility and mobility. It typically takes several months before patients experience sustained and meaningful relief from their pain, as well as increased flexibility and mobility, but it does occur.

Patients should stretch every day, and sometimes even many times each day, to gain flexibility. In addition to the lower back muscles, patients should also be sure to exercise their hamstrings, psoas major, pirformis, and the gluteus muscles.

Strength training is also helpful. A doctor and/or physical therapist will determine the best strength training exercises for the patient. Beginning exercises may include heel slides, wall squats, ankle pumps, abdominal contraction, straight leg raises, and heel raises.

In terms of cardiovascular exercise, activities such as walking, swimming, or bike riding (including a stationary bike) can be beneficial. Patients should go for exercises that do not exert a jarring force.

If at any time during exercising pain occurs, the patient should stop immediately.

Exercises to Avoid

Certain exercises and activities should be avoided by those experiencing back pain. Jumping and running should most often be avoided because each time the foot strikes the ground, this causes force to go up the leg and into the back. This can result in more pain due to compressing the discs. Anything that may compress the discs or strain the muscles, ligaments, or tendons, should be avoided.


Ullrich, P.F. Jr. MD. (2009). Exercise and Back Pain. Retrieved on January 10, 2011, from Spine Health:

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. (2010). Low Back Pain Exercise Guide. Retrieved on January 10, 2011 from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: