There are a thousand different exercises you could do to combat back pain. Yet in my experience as a sports physical therapist, there are only a few that are truly effective.
The core is one of the most important parts of improving low back pain. However, exercises like crunches can do more harm than good, and make low back pain even worse by putting unnecessary pressure on your spine. Understanding that the core is designed to stabilize, instead of produce motion is crucial for alleviating back pain.
The following seven exercises aim to mobilize and strengthen your back, leaving you with a solid foundation that will leave back pain in the dust.
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Each one of these exercises require little to no equipment and will begin to naturally relieve your lower back pain. Use this workout the next time you need back pain relief, without compromising your spine.
The 7 Best Exercises for Low Back Pain
Cat Cow | 15 reps
Start with this safe and gentle exercises for the spine. You don’t have to push into extreme ranges here, just get comfortable movement.
- Start on your hands and knees in an all-fours position. Stack your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees.
- Inhale to come into Cow pose by pointing your tailbone up while dropping your belly towards the floor. Think about tilting your pelvis down.
- Exhale to move into Cat pose by rounding your spine and tucking your chin.
- Continue alternating between Cat and Cow for a total of 15 reps, moving with your breath.
Bird Dog | 5 reps per side
This move stabilizes your spine and maintains good core control. To get the most out of this move, pretend like your holding a cup of water on your lower back. Don’t let it fall!
- Continue in an all-fours position. This time, maintain a flat back.
- On an inhale, slowly reach your right arm in front of you while simultaneously lifting the left leg out behind you.
- Exhale to return to center, then inhale to switch sides, extending your left arm and right leg. Be sure to minimize any movement at your lower back.
- Continue for a total of five reps per side.
Hip CARS | 5 reps per side
Hip CARS, or “controlled articular rotations,” are designed to get you to move your hip in all directions. When your hips are mobile, your lower back doesn’t have to work overtime.
- Continue in the all-fours position. Slowly lift your right knee off the ground and flex your right hip forward. Remember to maintain a flat back.
- Next, begin to rotate your right hip out to the side. Continue exploring the range of motion by rotating your hip to the back, then return to the starting position.
- Switch sides. Continue moving your hips one side at a time until you’ve completed five reps per side.
Quadruped T-Spine Rotation | 10 reps per side
This move helps to mobilize the middle of your back, or the thoracic spine. Without good movement there, your neck and lower back take on the additional motion, which can eventually cause pain.
- Continue in the all-fours position. Clasp your right hand onto the back of your head and sit back onto your heels to “lock out” your lower back.
- Rotate your right shoulder down and in, pointing your elbow towards the floor.
- Then, extend your shoulder up and out, pointing your elbow towards the ceiling.
- Continue rotating your right shoulder in and out for 10 reps, then switch sides.
Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch | 60 sec per side
The hip flexors connect to the low back. When the hip flexor muscles are short and stiff, they can pull on the lumbar spine. Improving hip flexor flexibility helps decrease pull on the low back.
- Start in a kneeling position. Then step your left foot out in front of you, keeping the foot flat on the ground.
- Engage your right glute muscles. You may already start to feel a stretch in the front of your hip.
- Next, drive your hips forward while maintaining a flat back position. You should feel the stretch in the front of your hip.
- Hold for 60 seconds, then switch sides.
Dead Bug Ball Holds | 10 reps
This exercise is great for those with low back discomfort because the core contracts isometrically (without much movement). When the core contracts isometrically, the lower back doesn’t have as much pressure on it and you can start to strengthen the core to allow for more stability and thus, less lower back stress.Tip
: If you don’t have an exercise ball, a basketball will do.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and an exercise ball resting on your torso.
- Press into the ball using equal pressure from your forearms and thighs.
- Hold this position for five seconds. You will feel your core engaging. Then relax.
- This is one rep. Repeat for a total of 10 reps.
Glute Bridges | 10 reps
This move protects the back by strengthening the glutes. Weak glutes cause the lower back to work harder, taking on excess weight meant for the hips.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground.
- Engage your glutes and slowly lift your hips off the ground. Be sure not to let your lower back arch.
- Hold for a breath, then slowly lower back down to the starting position.
- Complete 10 reps.
(Your Next Workout: 10 Yoga Poses to Release Lower Back and Hip Pain)