Lower back pain is, well, a pain. Not only does it hurt, but it can also prevent you from doing some of the things you want to do — whether that’s exercise, stroll around town with friends, or even sink down into a couch without grimacing.
Luckily there’s plenty you can do to feel better, and that includes adding a few specific lower back pain exercises to your workout routine. According to certified personal trainer Larissa Nicole, founder of Larissa Nicole Fitness, back pain often stems from a sedentary lifestyle and the loss of muscle strength that happens as a result. “Both are very interrelated,” she tells Bustle. “People who work an office job where they're seated for the majority of their day — especially if they aren't taking regular breaks to get up, stretch, and move around — put themselves at risk for developing more chronic low back issues simply because they're not activating the core muscles at all throughout the day.”
While stretches can help you find some relief, Nicole recommends strengthening your core muscles as well as the glutes and other surrounding muscles that help support the lower back so they can work more efficiently together in your overall body alignment. By strengthening these areas with consistent exercise, your back pain should start to go away. Here’s how to get started.
Lower Back Pain Exercises
Consistency is key when it comes to improving back pain, says Steve Hruby, DC, a chiropractor and founder at Kaizen Progressive Health. “Depending on the intensity and duration of your symptoms, you may need to perform these exercises multiple times a day, every day, in order to keep your pain under control,” he tells Bustle. But check in with your doctor, too, especially if your back pain is intense or doesn’t go away. You should also stop these moves if they make your back hurt more.
1. Dead Bugs
Nicole says this exercise is a safe way to stabilize your core muscles, aka the muscles that make up the all-important trunk of your body.
- Lie on your back with your arms stretched toward the sky and legs bent in a 90-degree position.
- Pay attention to your spine, ensuring that there is a small gap between the floor and the curve of your low back.
- Bring your ribcage down toward the pelvis. Think of an "ab crunch" machine bringing your ribs closer to your pelvis, but without losing the integrity of your spine's natural curve. “This is called ‘neutral spine’ and is the reason why this exercise is so good for people with low back pain,” Nicole says.
- From this starting point, lower one arm so that it's by your ear and extend the opposite leg slowly toward the ground.
- Return both limbs to the starting position before repeating on the other side.
- Perform for as many reps as you like, for around 2 to 3 sets.
Physical therapist Sandra Gail Frayna, of Hudson Premier Physical Therapy & Sports, recommends incorporating bridges into your daily routine. “They engage the muscles in your lower back without causing strain,” she tells Bustle, adding that they also help strengthen and elongate your muscles.
- Lie on your back.
- Bend your knees with your feet on the ground and your arms on the floor by your sides.
- Raise your hips off the ground.
- Hold for 10 seconds, then return to the starting position.
- Do 15 reps.
3. 10-Minute Walks
Frayna also suggests going on daily 10-minute walks. “Incorporating some sort of movement throughout your day should keep back pain at bay,” she tells Bustle. As with these other exercises, walking helps to strengthen your core, which positively impacts your lower back muscles. Just make sure your posture is good as you stroll!
Here’s one that’s a sort of stretch/exercise combo: “Loosening the upper back muscles can release tension along those long spine muscles, decreasing low back pain,” says yoga instructor Angie Berrett. “This also works the side abdominal muscles, too, taking some of the tension out of the spine.”
- Stand with your feet at a comfortable distance apart, parallel to each other.
- Have a slight bend in your knees to engage your leg muscles.
- Engage your glutes and lower abs, too.
- Start to rotate your upper torso only towards the right side, then towards the left in a twisting motion.
- Let your arms swing out side to side, like helicopter blades, as you rotate your torso.
- Rotate right side to left side while pressing your feet into the ground and stretching your spine and core muscles up through your low back, chest, and neck.
- Your neck can stay still or can look side to side, whichever is more comfortable.
- Rotate between the right and left side 8 times.
- Let your arms come down to your side and shake out your body.
- Repeat one more time.
5. Knee Hovers
According to Pilates instructor Erin Hamilton, owner of Copper Crane Pilates & Wellness, weak hamstrings can lead to lower back pain, too. Here’s a move that targets them as well as the deep muscles of the core.
- Get on your hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips.
- Press into your toes as if you were about to do a plank, but instead just hover your knees off the ground about an inch or two.
- Hold this position for three big breaths, focusing on pulling in your core with every exhale.
- Do 3 to 5 times, drawing your abs in a little more each time.
- Repeat 1 to 2 times a day.
6. Press Ups
“Initially, these exercises need to be performed frequently throughout the day,” Dr. Kathleen Matejik, PT, DPT, a doctor of physical therapy, tells Bustle. But once your back pain is under control, she says you might only have to do an exercise like this one twice a day — kind of like brushing your teeth — for “spine hygiene.”
- Lie on your stomach.
- Place your hands on the floor right under your shoulders.
- Press up by lifting your shoulders and upper body while attempting to relax your lower body.
- After about 2 or 3 reps, work towards straightening your arms fully by locking them out, then exhaling all the air in your lungs to allow your back to sag into the movement before lowering yourself down.
- Repeat 10 reps, 1 set, 2 to 5 sessions a day.
According to Hruby, this exercise is beneficial because it helps to stretch and strengthen the muscles in your back, shoulders, and legs. Just make sure to keep your torso stable as you do them so you don’t put too much strain on your neck.
- Lie flat on your stomach with your arms and legs outstretched (like Superman flying).
- Slowly raise your left arm and right leg off the ground, keeping your head and torso stable.
- Hold for 5 seconds, then return to the starting position.
- Repeat with your right arm and left leg.
- Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.
Bontrup C, Taylor WR, Fliesser M, Visscher R, Green T, Wippert PM, Zemp R. Low back pain and its relationship with sitting behaviour among sedentary office workers. Appl Ergon. 2019 Nov;81:102894. doi: 10.1016/j.apergo.2019.102894. Epub 2019 Jul 15. PMID: 31422243.
Larissa Nicole, certified personal trainer
Steve Hruby, doctor of chiropractic
Sandra Gail Frayna, physical therapist
Angie Berrett, yoga instructor
Erin Hamilton, Pilates instructor
Dr. Kathleen Matejik, PT, DPT, doctor physical therapy