Which Exercise Should I Avoid When I Have Back Pain?

Reviewed on 6/10/2022
Senior woman rolling on her back on a mat to do stretches
Exercises to avoid when you have back pain include crunches, high-impact exercises, movements that cause twisting (such as golf), running, off-road cycling, biking on a trail, and lifting heavy free weights.

Movement can often help relieve back pain, and strengthening back, abdominal, and leg muscles may help prevent back pain from coming back. 

While exercise can often help speed recovery from back pain and help strengthen back and abdominal muscles, there are some exercises to avoid when you have back pain, such as:

  • Crunches
    • Traditional sit-ups and crunches involve arching the back toward bent knees and can put pressure on spinal discs
  • High-impact exercises
    • High impact activities can put pressure on discs and result in more injury
  • Movements that cause twisting
    • An example is golf because it can increase back pain pressure
  • Running
    • The repetitive pounding of the feet on the pavement or a treadmill can stress a disc or strained muscle in the back
  • Off-road cycling
  • Biking on a trail can worsen back pain, as can the arched forward position on a bike
  • Lifting heavy free weights
    • May cause you to hold your breath, increasing pressure in the abdomen and resulting in more back pain

The bottom line when you have back pain is to listen to your body. If you feel pain, stop what you’re doing. 

What Are Symptoms of Back Pain?

Symptoms of back pain may include: 

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

How Is Back Pain Treated?

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 one to two days at most
  • Activities may be resumed as soon as possible if you don’t feel pain
    • Take it slowly and gradually to not aggravate your back 
  • Exercise 
  • Surgery in severe cases

What Is the Best Exercise for Back Pain?

Exercise is often the best way to speed back pain recovery 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 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 a 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


Nearly everyone has low back pain at some time during their life. See Answer

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Reviewed on 6/10/2022
Image Source: iStock Images