What Are the Best Exercises for Back Pain Relief?

Reviewed on 12/2/2020

Can Exercise Cure Back Pain?

Movement can often help relieve back pain, and strengthening back, abdominal, and leg muscles may help prevent back pain from recurring. Most acute back pain is caused by injury or a disorder such as arthritis.
Movement can often help relieve back pain, and strengthening back, abdominal, and leg muscles may help prevent back pain from recurring. Most acute back pain is caused by injury or a disorder such as arthritis.

Symptoms of back pain may include:

  • Pain ranges from a muscle ache to shooting or stabbing pain
  • Limited flexibility
  • Limited range of motion
  • Inability to stand straight

Treatment for back pain may include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers to reduce discomfort 
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation
  • Prescription medications for pain and/or inflammation
  • Use of cold and hot compresses 
  • Bed rest for only 1–2 days at most
  • Activities should be resumed as soon as possible
  • Exercise 
  • Surgery in severe cases

What Is the Best Exercise for Back Pain?

Exercise is often best way to speed recovery from back pain and help strengthen back and abdominal muscles. 

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends the following back exercises. Check with your doctor or physical therapist before performing any of these exercises for back pain. Depending on the cause of your back pain, some exercises may not be recommended.  

If any exercises worsen the pain or cause new pain, stop and contact your doctor. 

Beginning Exercise Program

  • Ankle Pumps
    • Lie on your back
    • Move ankles up and down
    • Repeat 10 times
  • Heel Slides
    • Lie on your back
    • Slowly bend and straighten knee
    • Repeat 10 times
  • Abdominal Contraction
    • Lie on your back with knees bent and hands resting below ribs
    • Tighten abdominal muscles to squeeze ribs down toward back
    • Do not hold your breath
    • Hold 5 seconds, then relax
    • Repeat 10 times
  • Wall Squat
    • Stand with your back leaning against wall.
    • Walk feet 12 inches in front of body
    • Keep abdominal muscles tight while slowly bending both knees to 45 degrees
    • Hold 5 seconds, then slowly return to upright position
    • Repeat 10 times
  • Heel Raises
    • Stand with your weight evenly distributed on both feet
    • Slowly raise your heels off the floor
    • Hold 5 seconds, then slowly lower your heels to the floor
    • Repeat 10 times
  • Straight Leg Raises
    • Lie on your back with one leg straight and one knee bent
    • Tighten abdominal muscles to stabilize the lower back
    • Slowly lift leg straight up about 6 to 12 inches and hold for 1 to 5 seconds
    • Lower leg slowly
    • Repeat 10 times

Intermediate Exercise Program

  • Single Knee to Chest Stretch
    • Lie on your back with both knees bent
    • Hold thigh behind knee and bring one knee up to chest
    • Hold 20 seconds, then relax
    • Repeat 5 times on each side
  • Hamstring Stretch
    • Lie on your back with legs bent
    • Hold one thigh behind knee
    • Slowly straighten knee until a stretch is felt in back of thigh
    • Hold 20 seconds, then relax
    • Repeat 5 times on each side.

Advanced Exercise Program

  • Hip Flexor Stretch
    • Lie on your back near edge of bed, holding knees to chest
    • Slowly lower one leg down, keeping knee bent, until a stretch is felt across top of the hip/thigh
    • Hold 20 seconds, then relax
    • Repeat 5 times on each side
  • Piriformis Stretch
    • Lie on your back with both knees bent
    • Cross one leg on top of the other
    • Pull your opposite knee to your chest until a stretch is felt in the buttock/hip area
    • Hold 20 seconds, then relax
    • Repeat 5 times on each side

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Reviewed on 12/2/2020
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