Exercises for low back pain

An illustrated exercise routine, including stretching.

These exercises for low back pain improve spine mobility and relax your muscles. They also help to stretch and balance key muscle groups that attach to the spine. To relieve back discomfort*, try the routine below 2 times per day.

*Please note:  The exercises that follow can be very helpful. However, if you are injured it requires skilled assessment from a health care provider to determine which exercises and what types of treatment are appropriate for you. If you have an injury, medical condition, significant pain or constant pain, please see your doctor or health care provider and follow their instructions.

A helpful starting exercise is controlled, gentle spine movement with the Cat & Camel. First arch your back up toward the ceiling, like an angry cat. Increase the movement with a deep inhale. Then exhale, tighten (or brace) your abdominals, drop your chest toward the floor and lift your head slightly as shown. Repeat this exercise 10 times. 

This exercise gently stretches the connective tissue around your nerve roots(Scroll to the bottom of this page to see these branches that come from the spinal cord). Practicing the cat-camel will help you learn good coordination for movements of your spine.

The next 2 exercises for low back pain are stretches for your hip and gluteal muscles. Keep your tailbone (sacrum) on the floor for these stretches--this will focus the stretch where it’s needed most, in your hip muscles. Hold each stretch for 5 seconds and repeat 3 times.

When your hips are too tight, the stress of body movement may be transferred to your lower back. Also, stiffness in these muscles often causes discomfort below the waist. 2 good reasons to include these stretches in your exercise routine!

Another very important exercise is the kneeling lunge stretch. Focus the stretch in the front of your upper thigh by keeping your hips in line with each other and by maintaining abdominal tension (so that your back doesn't over arch).

This exercise stretches the hip flexor muscles, which attach between the front of the thigh and the lumbar vertebrae. When these muscles are too tight they can pull your spine out of proper alignment. Scroll to the bottom of the page to see the iliopsoas muscle group.

a) Rest on your forearms and then extend your back as shown, keeping your head and neck in line with the rest of your spine. Hold for 3 seconds, rest briefly, and repeat 5-10 times.

b) As exercise (a) becomes easier, you can press from your hands for a stronger stretch. To keep the stretch even through your spine, tighten your abdominals during the exercise.

Press ups can relieve lower back pain by stretching the abdominal muscles, relieving tightness that can pull the spine in a forward slumped position. Press ups also allow extra space for the discs to shift forward away from the nerve roots. (See the nerve roots at the bottom of this page.) If you have difficulty sitting or bending over for long periods, the press up may relieve the tension or discomfort.

Finish your exercises for low back pain routine by repeating exercise #1, the cat-camel stretch. Try these exercises for lower back pain 2-3 times per day. If your pain increases or will not go away, please see your doctor to find out what may be causing your problem.

These exercises for low back pain are part of a book I created to help my readers achieve Correct Posture.

Reminder: If you have significant pain, constant pain, or pain from an unknown cause, please see your doctor. The info on this page is intended to help prevent back problems. It is not a replacement for proper care from your doctor or other health care provider.

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Progressive Core Strengthening                       Train your muscles safely.  Develop your strength continuously.  

Correct Posture                                              The key to feeling better & preventing lower back problems.

Back stretching exercises
Illustrated. Stretch key muscles affecting the spine.

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Causes of lower back pain 
Expert opinion, detailed anatomy diagrams.

Rob Cowell, PT is the author of whyiexercise.com, Correct Posture, and Progressive Core Strengthening.  whyiexercise.com was created from his knowledge and experience in physical therapy, fitness and athletics.