Back Exercises to Help Reduce Back Pain
I know, I’ve been there, and it’s hard to know what to do when you have back pain. Do you rest or try to do some back exercises to help reduce the back pain? Due to conflicting opinions from doctors (who always tell you to rest!), and the fact that the condition is so debilitating, it is often difficult to know what you should do to feel well again.
It is estimated that 80% of the population experience issues with chronic low back pain and that $90 billion is spent on the diagnosis and treatment of low back pain every year. It can affect children and the elderly for a number of reasons such as height, body weight, age, occupational posture, and depressive moods also contribute too.
However, times are changing and the medical and fitness industry are coming together to help educate you on how you can take positive steps to improve your fitness and wellbeing through regular exercise. A number of studies show that lumbar stabilization exercises and walking not only relieve back pain but can also prevent chronic back pain. It also shows that exercise training can also be more effective than therapists hands-on treatment.
How Will Back Exercises To Help Reduce Back Pain Help You?
Stretching and exercise increases blood flow and circulation. It aids flexibility, muscle control, endurance and range of motion. It also helps to improve posture, reduce aches and pains and will also make you feel more confident.
Approximately 90% of low back pain diagnoses are without any known cause and can be attributed to weak hip abductors, extensors and core muscles. This causes the hamstrings, iliopsoas, piriformis and tensor fasciae to become overactive and tight which puts strain on the low back.
By performing these exercises it will help you to improve your core strength which is essential for proper alignment and stability. It will also improve your pain intensity, disability level, physical function and improve your overall quality of life.
When Should You Perform Back Exercises To Help Reduce Back Pain?
Firstly, and foremost, if you have suffered a recent back injury which required medical attention then do not attempt an exercise program until you have clearance from your physician.
If your back is stiff and painful with no apparent cause, start by taking ibuprofen and applying ice on the affected area for the first 48 hours (you can apply heat after this time). Stay active by doing some form of exercise such as going for a walk or doing some light stretches or stabilization moves to help relieve the symptoms.
If symptoms do not get any better or persist for longer than two weeks then go and see a physician such as a physiatrist, chiropractor or physical therapist. They will be able to determine the root of the problem and advise whether any further tests will be needed.
What Are The Back Exercises To Help Reduce Back Pain?
Take your time to gently work through the exercises, breathe deep and focus on your posture and alignment.
Also, remember, that everyone is different and what is right for one, may not be right for the other. So, pay attention to how you feel and listen to your body during exercise. Take note of what aggravates your symptoms and if you feel any sharp pain during exercise then back off (excuse the pun!). Release slowly out of that particular move and do something that does not cause discomfort….The basic rule of thumb is that if it hurts, don’t do it!
#1. Cat Cow
Cat and cow is a great way to open up the spine and release tension. Move slowly and regulate your breathing by inhaling on the up and exhaling on the way down as you curve your spine.
- Begin on all fours in table pose with your hands under your shoulders and knees underneath your hips.
- Inhale as you go into the cow pose by lifting your head and tailbone up and opening your chest. Relax your shoulders and bring them away from your ears and keep your gaze forwards.
- Exhale as you progress into cat pose by arching your back and tucking in your tailbone and relaxing your head towards the floor.
- Repeat the process by connecting the breath with the movement and relax; inhaling into cow and exhaling into cat for as many times as you like.
#2. Bird Dog
This move is great for improving low back stability and engages the back and core muscles at the same time. The muscles extend during the movement and relieve pain and tension.
- Start on all fours in table pose with your hands underneath your shoulders and knees underneath your hips.
- Breathe in and then lift your opposite arm and leg up off the floor and exhale. Form a straight line with your body, from hand to foot, keep the pelvis square and abs engaged.
- Hold the leg and arm at the same height for a few seconds and then lower to the floor.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Repeat 2 – 4 times or as many times as you like.
#3. Modified Upward Facing Dog
Important – This exercise should not be practiced with a recent back injury. Gently perform upward facing dog without excessive bending of the spine and keep the legs on the floor. Also only take the stretch to where it is comfortable for you. This pose opens the chest, strengthens the low spine and stretches your abdominal muscles.
- Lie in a supine (face down) position with your legs stretched out behind you and toes pointed
- Place your hands flat on the floor, squeezed in next to your rib cage with your shoulders over your wrists.
- Inhale and then exhale as you push through your fingers, straighten your arms and lift your chest off the floor.
- Only straighten your arms as much as your body will allow. Also relax your shoulders by bringing them away from your ears and squeeze your shoulder blades back.
- Hold the pose for up to 30 seconds whilst breathing deeply and then exhale back down to the mat.
#4. Downward Dog
Helps strengthen the deep abdominal muscles and lengthens the spine. It helps to relieve back pain and sciatica. Try not to over extend through the back, keep the spine straight and neutral by looking towards the feet. If you find that the hamstrings are tight then modify the pose by bending the knees and stretch gently.
- Start in a tabletop position with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Fingers should be pointing forwards and pressed firmly into the mat.
- Inhale and exhale as you tuck your toes and push your pelvis up towards the ceiling and your body into the shape of an A.
- Straighten the legs the best you can whilst keeping the knees soft and engaging the quadriceps. Then press down equally with your hands and your heels and bring the chest towards the thighs.
- Externally rotate the elbows so that they are pinned into the side of the body and your elbow creases are facing your thumbs.
- Keep the head relaxed by looking between your legs and hold. You can hold the pose for 5 breaths or as long as you like.
#5. Hip Flexor Stretch
Stretches the iliopsoas which, when tight, can cause low back pain. This exercise is great for activating the hamstrings and glutes and takes pressure off of the lumbar spine.
- Kneel on one knee in a lunge position with your knee at a 90 degree angle and over the top of your ankle.
- Keep your back straight with your shoulders back and chest open. Breathe in and exhale as you move the knee over the top of the ankle until you feel a stretch in the upper thigh and hip flexor.
- Hold for 10 – seconds then release and swap sides. Repeat 2 – 4 times
This pose engages the core muscles and strengthens the low back, hamstrings and glutes. Try to avoid hyperextending your back by pushing your hips too far up to the sky. Keep a neutral spine and focus on engaging your abdominals and glutes.
- Lie flat on the floor with your hands down by your side and feet hip distance apart.
- Take a deep breath in, exhale on the movement and raise your hips to the sky whilst engaging the core and glutes. Make sure you don’t hyperextend the back.
- Hold for 10 seconds and then slowly release to the floor.
- Repeat 3 – 5 times.
#7. Child’s Pose
This pose is great for soothing as it reverses the direction and decompresses the spine. Try to keep a long neutral spine and neck and avoid rounding the back.
- Start by kneeling on the floor with your feet hip width apart and sit up tall.
- Inhale and then exhale by taking your arms out in front, and lay your torso over your thighs. Keep a long neutral spine and lengthen through the spine and neck.
- Draw your ribs away from your tailbone and breathe long deep breaths.
- Hold for 1-2 minutes
Designed to lengthen the abdominal muscles, strengthen the low back and engage the glutes and hamstrings. It also improves the stabilization of the hip extensors and lumbar. If lifting both hands off the floor is difficult then lift one arm and the opposite leg of the ground and then switch sides.
- Lie flat on the floor in a prone (face down position), with legs and arms straight in front of you.
- Inhale, then exhale out and and lift your arms and your legs off the floor with your head in neutral position (looking down).
- Squeeze your belly button to your spine to engage your abs.
- Hold the legs and arms up for 5-10 seconds and then lower them to the ground.
- Repeat this 3-5 times
#9. Supine Hamstring Stretch
Hamstrings are often the main contributor to low back pain and stretching them on a regular basis can help lengthen and reduce tension in the lumbar spine. Don’t worry if you can’t straighten your leg with this exercise. If this is the case, bend your leg at the knee and use a resistance band, towel or belt over your foot.
- Start by lying flat on the floor with your legs stretched out.
- Breathe in and then exhale whilst bringing one leg up towards your chest. Take hold of the back of the leg with both hands just above the knee and straighten the leg the best you can.
- Keep the back pressed to the floor, hips neutral and other leg straight on the floor. Breathe deeply in and out as you stretch the hamstrings.
- Hold for 15-20 seconds a side and then swap legs.
#10. Supine Spinal Twist
This exercise is a fantastic way to stretch the entire spine from the shoulders, all the way down to the abdominals, back, hips and groin. It strengthens, stretches and relaxes the spine as well as massages the hips and back.
- Lie down flat on the floor with your arms stretched out to the sides and inline with your shoulders.
- Bring one knee up to your chest with the other leg straight and pressed to the floor.
- Take a deep breath and then exhale into the movement, by floating the knee across to the other side of the body.
- Look towards the arm on the opposite side to which you are stretching and keep your shoulders pressed down on the floor. If the shoulders start to come up off the floor then reduce the stretch in the crossed leg.
- Hold the pose for as long as you like whilst breathing deeply and going further into the stretch.
- Bring the knee back into the stomach and then repeat on the other side.
Movement is key to recovery and some exercise is always better than no exercise at all. If you are experiencing back pain then try to do a little exercise by going for a walk or by doing some light stretches. However, remember not to overdo it, listen to your body and if you feel any discomfort when doing an exercise then ease off. If the symptoms persist for longer than two weeks (or the pain is unbearable) then go and see a doctor.
I hope this helps you on your road to recovery. If you have any questions or comments then please stick them in the box below, I’d love to hear from you. Thanks!
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World Health Organization Website – Low back pain Janet K. Freburger, https://www.who.int/medicines/areas/priority_medicines/Ch6_24LBP.pdf?ua=1
National Library of Medicine 2019, Pubmed. “The effect of lumbar stabilization and walking exercises on chronic low back pain: A randomized controlled trial”, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31261549/
National Library of Medicine 2019, “Which specific modes of exercise training are most effective for treating low back pain?” Network meta-analysis, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31666220/
National Library of Medicine 2020, “Core Stability and Hip Exercises Improve Physical Function and Activity in Patients with Non-Specific Low Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32669487/