8 Exercises for Lower Back Pain Relief, Recommended By PTs

Doing lower back pain exercises at home is one of the best ways to manage pain and get relief. Learn the best stretches from Hinge Health physical therapists.

Published Date: Jun 29, 2023
woman-doing-lower-back-pain-exercises

8 Exercises for Lower Back Pain Relief, Recommended By PTs

Doing lower back pain exercises at home is one of the best ways to manage pain and get relief. Learn the best stretches from Hinge Health physical therapists.

Published Date: Jun 29, 2023
woman-doing-lower-back-pain-exercises

8 Exercises for Lower Back Pain Relief, Recommended By PTs

Doing lower back pain exercises at home is one of the best ways to manage pain and get relief. Learn the best stretches from Hinge Health physical therapists.

Published Date: Jun 29, 2023
woman-doing-lower-back-pain-exercises

8 Exercises for Lower Back Pain Relief, Recommended By PTs

Doing lower back pain exercises at home is one of the best ways to manage pain and get relief. Learn the best stretches from Hinge Health physical therapists.

Published Date: Jun 29, 2023
woman-doing-lower-back-pain-exercises
Table of Contents

Whether you woke up with an achy back out of the blue or have been dealing with on-and-off back pain flares for a while, we know dealing with low back pain is rough. A bout of low back pain can make the most basic parts of your day — even sitting or sleeping — uncomfortable. It’s also very common: Almost a quarter of all adults worldwide experience chronic lower back pain, and more than 80% of people will have at least one episode of low back pain during their lifetime.

So, yeah: Back pain is frustrating and common. But you’re in the right place, because exercise therapy is one of the best things you can do to relieve back pain and prevent it from recurring.

Your low back, or lumbar region, is the area of your back that starts right below your ribcage and goes to the top of your buttocks. Low back pain can come on slowly or suddenly, and it can wax or wane or be constant, says Lori Walter, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. But there is one commonality: “Most of the time, back pain will get better after a few weeks with movement and lower back pain exercises,” she says.

After doing gentle strengthening and stretching exercises, Hinge Health members report noticeable lower back pain relief. “I drove for six hours yesterday and had no back pain getting out of the car,” one member recently shared. “This is a big victory because I used to creep out of the car after a 20-minute drive.” Other members report that doing regular back stretches at home helps them be active without pain getting in the way, allowing them to “grocery shop and haul everything into the house and do gardening, pool work, and cooking” all in one day.

Here, we’ll look at some of the main causes of low back pain and some simple at-home exercises that may help. 

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Our Hinge Health Experts

Lori Walter, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Walter is a Hinge Health physical therapist with over 20 years of experience working with orthopedic injuries, pelvic health, and sports medicine.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

Causes of Lower Back Pain

Your lumbar spine has a big job — it supports your upper body and helps you do critical everyday movements like bending, twisting, and walking, points out Dr. Walter. While back pain can make you feel fragile, your back is actually one of the strongest parts of your body. Here’s a look at some common things that can bother your back.

Strains and sprains. Most of the time, back pain is not caused by a single factor that can be identified during an examination or with imaging like an X-ray. Sprain and strains of back tissues fall under this category. In these situations, you may experience sudden-onset pain following lifting something heavy, shoveling, bending, or doing an intense workout. (Ever hear someone say they “threw out their back”? It’s likely this.) “Sometimes it can be triggered by something as simple as twisting in an awkward way,” says Dr. Walter. It’s not dangerous, and it will get better on its own and with exercise therapy.

Your job or daily routine. If you sit or stand for long periods of time, it can put pressure on the muscles and ligaments around your lower back and trigger low back pain. These things aren’t bad for you, but if your routine contributes to back pain, building back strength and flexibility, or making some modification to your routine by taking more frequent breaks, may help.

Disc issues. Your spine is made up of 24 vertebrae (bones) stacked on top of one another. In between them are flat, round discs that are about a half-inch thick. A disc herniates when its center pushes against the outer ring, causing pressure that can lead to back and/or leg pain. While a “bulging disc” or “herniated disc” can sound scary, it’s very common and usually heals over time. Being active and following other tips to prevent and treat herniated discs can help.

Arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis to cause lower back pain. Other types of arthritis affect the back, too, such as spondyloarthropathies — chronic inflammatory diseases that can affect the spine and pelvis.  

Spondylolisthesis. This is characterized by a vertebra in the spine moving out of its normal place. If there is excessive motion of the vertebra or if the vertebra puts pressure on a nerve, it may contribute to symptoms.  

Spinal stenosis. This condition occurs when the spinal column narrows and puts pressure on the spinal cord or nerves. It’s often characterized by pain that gets worse when walking and improves upon sitting down.

Why Exercise Is So Good for Low Back Pain

No matter what factors may play a role in your back pain, exercise therapy is one of the most helpful treatments. It activates and challenges your muscles, tendons, bones, and ligaments so they can adapt to your daily movement and activities. Exercise also retrains your pain system so you feel more confident and safe to move, which in turn can make you feel stronger and more fit, breaking the persistent pain cycle.

At-home treatments such as a heating pad and a short course of over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help ease a back pain flare-up. But the best remedy for lower back pain is to stay active. “Medications are short-acting, but lower back pain exercises retrain your muscles and nervous system for the long run,” points out Dr. Walter. Research also shows that regular exercise reduces the frequency of recurrent back pain by half. Exercises and lower back stretches can help by: 

  • Increasing back flexibility and strengthening the muscles that support your back. In fact, a program that combines aerobic exercise like walking along with back strengthening exercises has been shown to reduce pain and improve overall back function.

  • Allowing you to get back to your daily routine. If you let pain limit your activities, you’ll become isolated. That, in turn, can make it even harder to cope with back pain. 

  • Improving healing. Exercise increases blood flow and nutrients to your back’s soft tissues, which speeds the healing process and reduces stiffness that can worsen back pain.

You may also consider activities with a mind-body focus, like yoga and tai chi. They include movements that strengthen core and back muscles, improve balance and flexibility, and help reduce stress, which is linked to back pain, notes Dr. Walter. A 2017 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that 12 weeks of weekly yoga sessions were as effective as physical therapy in helping to relieve lower back pain.

But Shouldn’t I Rest When I Have Back Pain?

In a word: No. You may think you should limit activity to prevent hurting your back further. But in this case, “movement is absolutely medicine,” stresses Dr. Walter. “You want to stay active to increase blood flow to the area, which will help with healing. It will also prevent muscles from stiffening up even further, which can cause even more pain.”

If you’re in severe pain, you may need to take it easier for a day or two. When you rest, you can lie on your back with a pillow under your knees and your head and shoulders elevated. When you sleep, consider lying on your side with your knees bent and a pillow between them. Ultimately, you’ll want to do whatever is most comfortable for you, but these positions tend to work well for most people with back pain. 

Hinge Health physical therapists don’t advise complete rest, though. You can avoid strenuous activities if they hurt your back, but do light exercise, such as walking, swimming, or using a stationary bike, and simple back strengthening and stretching exercises. Studies show that people with low back pain recover more quickly if they keep moving. It’s always better to engage in some movement than none, even if that just means going about most of your usual chores and errands, doing a restorative yoga routine, or taking some short walks or other “movement snacks.”

PT-Recommended Lower Back Pain Exercises

Get 100+ similar exercises for free

  • Pelvic Tilt
  • Knee Rocking
  • Figure Four Stretch
  • Cat Cow
  • Child's Pose
  • Bird Dog
  • Bridge
  • Dead Bug

These back exercises are frequently recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists for various kinds of back aches and pain. Many are gentle enough to do while you’re experiencing a pain uptick, and you can also do them preventively to keep future back pain episodes at bay.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: Modify Your Lifting Technique 

Commonly, low back pain can start with lifting a heavy object. But contrary to what you may have been taught, there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to lift an object. There are, however, ways to make your lifting technique more efficient, which can be helpful in preventing or coping with a back pain flare. 

The advice to lift with your legs and not with your back “doesn’t go quite far enough,” says Dr. Walter. “I suggest creating a wide base of support, front to back and side to side — like a lunge. Bend your knees over the object, bring it close to your center, and exhale on the way up,” she says. This engages your natural back brace and decreases the load on your back.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Casiano, V. E., & De, N. K. (2020). Back Pain. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538173/

  2. Wheeler, S. G., Wipf, J. E., Staiger, T. O., Deyo, R. A., & Jarvik, J. G. (2022, May 26). Evaluation of low back pain in adults. UptoDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/evaluation-of-low-back-pain-in-adults?search=low%20back%20pain&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1

  3. Chou, R., Deyo, R., Friedly, J., Skelly, A., Hashimoto, R., Weimer, M., Fu, R., Dana, T., Kraegel, P., Griffin, J., Grusing, S., & Brodt, E. D. (2017). Nonpharmacologic Therapies for Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review for an American College of Physicians Clinical Practice Guideline. Annals of Internal Medicine, 166(7), 493. doi:10.7326/m16-2459

  4. Lee, J.-S., & Kang, S.-J. (2016). The effects of strength exercise and walking on lumbar function, pain level, and body composition in chronic back pain patients. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, 12(5), 463–470. doi:10.12965/jer.1632650.325

  5. Gordon, R., & Bloxham, S. (2016). A Systematic Review of the Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Non-Specific Chronic Low Back Pain. Healthcare, 4(2), 22. doi:10.3390/healthcare4020022

  6. Saper, R. B., Lemaster, C., Delitto, A., Sherman, K. J., Herman, P. M., Sadikova, E., Stevans, J., Keosaian, J. E., Cerrada, C. J., Femia, A. L., Roseen, E. J., Gardiner, P., Gergen Barnett, K., Faulkner, C., & Weinberg, J. (2017). Yoga, Physical Therapy, or Education for Chronic Low Back Pain. Annals of Internal Medicine, 167(2), 85. doi:10.7326/m16-2579