Back Pain

Exercises for Lower Back Pain

  • Relief for Lower Back Pain

    According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), low back pain is the most frequent cause of disability on the job, and Americans collectively spend around $50 billion on treatments for this type of back pain annually. Fortunately, you can treat your lower back pain without surgery or drugs. Click through the slideshow to learn some easy exercises to soothe the pain.

  • Easing into Exercise

    If you suffer from low back pain, it’s important to practice some regular exercises to strengthen your back. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends spending 10 to 30 minutes a day exercising during the early stages of back pain. Your doctor or physical therapist can suggest specific exercises for your particular condition. To give you an idea of exercises that your doctor may prescribe, consider the exercise program that appears on the following slides.

  • Lower Back Flexibility

    The Mayo Clinic recommends repeating this lower back flexibility exercise five times daily. You can gradually increase the number of repetitions up to 30 as it gets easier for you to perform the movements:

    Begin by lying on your back on the floor or a mat. Bend your knees, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Next, arch your back. (Tip: Think about trying to point your pubic bone toward your feet.) Hold this pose for 5 seconds, then relax back onto the floor. Flatten your back as though you are trying to pull your navel down toward the floor. Hold this pose for 5 seconds before relaxing back onto the floor. 

  • Lower Back Rotation

    Repeat this lower back rotational stretch two or three times on each side of your body. To remember to practice this stretch, try doing it once in the morning and once at night (and add an afternoon stretch as needed):

    Begin by lying on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Focus on keeping your shoulders touching the floor, and then roll your knees to one side of your body. Hold this pose for up to 10 seconds before returning to your starting position. Repeat on the other side.

  • Seated Stretch

    Try this seated version of lower back rotational stretch twice a day, three to five times on each side:

    Sit on an armless chair or stool, and cross your left leg over your right leg. (You can brace your right elbow against the outside of your left knee for support.) Twist your torso, stretching to the side. Hold this position for 10 seconds, and then repeat on the other side. 

  • Work Those Abs

    Practicing abdominal contractions can help restore strength to your back and help you return to activities that you may be missing out on due to back pain. Try these simple abdominal contractions.

    Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent. (Tip: You can rest your hands below your ribcage.) Contract your abs—you should feel your ribs squeeze downward toward your back. Hold for 5 seconds, then relax your muscles and repeat the exercise 10 times. Be sure not to hold your breath while you do this exercise.

  • Have a Ball

    Once you feel comfortable with your initial exercise program, you can introduce more challenging lower back exercises using an exercise ball (also called a Swiss ball). The AAOS recommends these lumbar stabilization exercises. Remember to keep your abdominal muscles tightened and try to complete each exercise in about 1 minute:

    While lying on your back, bend your knees and rest your calves on an exercise ball. Raise one arm over your head, then alternate raising your other arm. With your legs on the ball, straighten one knee and then relax it. Alternate straightening your other knee. Continue to straighten one knee while raising the opposite arm over your head. You can also “walk” the ball forward and backward using only your legs. (Tip: The further the ball is from your body, the harder it is to do this exercise.)

  • Sit on It

    You can also practice this seated lumbar stabilization exercise with an exercise ball:

    Sit on an exercise ball, bending your knees and hips 90 degrees and resting your feet on the floor. Raise one arm over your head, then the other arm. Next, slowly raise and lower one heel, then the other. If you feel stable, raise one heel while raising your opposite arm over your head. Then switch to the other side with your opposite arm and heel. 

  • Keep Moving

    According to NINDS, exercises that strengthen back muscles may be the most effective way to combat lower back pain and speed recovery. In addition to practicing the exercises in this slideshow, get into a routine of other exercises that may improve lower back pain, such as walking, swimming, stretching, and yoga. Listen to your body as you exercise—and be sure to consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program. The mild discomfort that you may feel when you begin strengthening these muscles should fade as your back becomes stronger.

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