The Best Exercises You Can Do If You Have Back Problems

Back problems are a pain. Both literally and figuratively. Those with back pain know there’s a fine line between exercising the back muscles and pulling them. If you utilize some of the following exercises and workouts — especially the simple stretch on page 9 — you’ll live a more pain-free, pleasant life.

1. Swimming

Man swimming in pool

Swimming is very easy on the joints. |

Swimming in a pool can take pressure off your joints, but if you’re not near a body of water, a specific move can mimic swimming and strengthen back muscles, according to Prevention. When performing this exercise you’ll look like a swimmer out of water. Make sure to maintain a long spine and contract the abs to support your back throughout the exercise. Also, focus on the length of arms and legs, not the height.

Next: A better way to rebound

2. Rebounding (trampoline workout)

Woman sits on a mini trampoline

Did you know you could work out with a trampoline? | viki2win/ iStock/Getty Images Plus

Jumping up and down may seem jarring, especially to your back. However, research shows that trampoline workouts are low-impact — the springs absorb most of the force — and can actually help you recover from a back injury. Jumping on a trampoline increases back flexibility and muscle strength around your spine. NASA even recommends rebounding for returning astronauts.

Next: It seems too simple — but it works.

3. Walking

Walking shoes

Count those steps for improved back health. |

You don’t need intense cardio to be healthy; it could even hurt your back more. Instead, go for regular walks. “People with chronic lower back pain who do not regularly engage in aerobic exercise are more likely to be limited in their functionality,” Andrew Moeller of Spine-Health writes. Not only does walking help you stay functional but the movement releases endorphins, which can ease your aches, too.

Next: This workout will give you a strong back and killer body.

4. Pilates

Two women doing Pilates

Pilates are a great low-impact exercise. |

The benefits of pilates include “improved core strength and stability, improved posture and balance, improved flexibility, and prevention and treatment of back pain,” according to the Mayo Clinic. While the name sounds intimidating, pilates is helpful for those with back pain because it focuses on flexibility, strength, and endurance — and the only equipment you need is a mat. Beginners, start slow and work up to more difficult moves.

Next: This challenging move is worth the effort.

5. Standard planks

young woman in sportswear doing plank

Planks can help alleviate back pain. |

Working the body’s core has tons of benefits. “Planks train the muscles of your abdomen to activate so they support your posture and share in the burden of holding you upright; your back muscles no longer have to do all the work,” LiveStrong says. Not only do planks help in everyday activities, they can alleviate back pain. Put the painkillers aside and perform a plank.

Next: Ease chronic lower back pain with this workout.

6. Cycling

A man cycles indoors

Strengthen your legs to help your back. | iStock/Getty Images

Even people with back pain need cardio. And cycling is one of the best ways to do so. This low-impact workout strengthens your leg muscles, which support your spine and take the pressure of the lower back. Research found that cycling helps control back pain and improve your fitness. The key: Maintaining a good technique and posture.

Next: Don’t “carry” the weight of your back pain.

7. Loaded carries

Back of athletic woman with muscular physique holding pair of chrome

This simple exercise will strengthen your back and core. | Ammentorp Lund

This workout seems simple, but loaded carries “create more stability and stiffness while protecting the back,” explains Muscle & Fitness. All you need to do is pick up a set of heavy dumbbells or kettlebells — one in each hand — and walk for a certain distance or time. As long as you keep your shoulders back with a straight spine, you’ll see a stronger, more toned back.

Next: This old form of exercise still works wonders.

8. Yoga

Young woman doing yoga

Yoga will give your body a good stretch. |

Practicing yoga — above and beyond the previous stretches we mentioned — can benefit those suffering from backaches and other ailments. “The relaxation techniques incorporated in yoga can lessen chronic pain, such as lower back pain, arthritis, headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome,” Natalie Nevins, DO, an osteopathic family physician and certified Kundalini Yoga instructor, told the American Osteopathic Association. “Yoga can also lower blood pressure and reduce insomnia,” Nevins added.

Next: Raise the “barre” on your workouts.

9. Barre class

Woman at barre class

Barre class involves low-impact moves while standing at a bar secured to the wall, or with a small exercise ball. | Lily Lawrence/Getty Images for Pure Barre

You’ve likely seen a franchise like Barre3 or Pure Bar pop up in your city. The low-impact, ballet-inspired workout is actually good for the disks that “cushion the vertebrae and the individual spinal bones,” according to research from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Experts say those with back pain can benefit from barre classes as long as they maintain a neutral spine.

Next: A simple stretch that will transform your back woes

10. Child’s pose stretch

man in a blue shirt and black shorts practicing child's pose

Child’s pose is a great place to start if you are new to yoga. |

One yoga pose in particular, child’s pose, is extremely useful for those with back pain. The pose, a variation of lying down on one’s stomach, gently stretches the muscles in the lower back, Prevention says. For those who are new to yoga, child’s pose is a good place to start. The move is simple and provides a good stretch.

Next: Fight back pain by learning to fight.

11. Tai Chi

Karate school for adults and children

Adults, not just kids, benefit from martial arts. |

Don’t rule out martial arts just because it’s not a common workout. Research finds that this low-impact exercise eases lower back pain and helps people with fibromyalgia, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and heart problems. Tai chi, in particular, can help you improve your posture, breathing, flexibility, and circulation. If you practice regularly, you’ll likely feel stronger, less stiff, and more relaxed overall.

Next: Work your entire body.

12. Forearm plank

Young man doing planks

The forearm plank is a little more difficult. |

Dubbed the “ultimate core move” by Prevention, the forearm plank works the core, midsection, arms, butt, legs … pretty much the entire body. Form is key to performing a plank and reaping the benefits. Keep the body in a straight line and in no time your body will be shaking, working to maintain its position. To track your progress, write down how long you hold a plank and review your stats weekly.

Next: Reduce stress with this no-equipment technique.

13. Practicing breathing

Man practicing meditation on the beach

Taking slow, deep breaths can help calm your nerves. |

Stress can contribute to back pain. But breathing exercises can help reduce stress, which can ease muscle tension. Spend a few minutes taking slow, deep breaths to calm your nerves. Practice meditation or download an app that guides you through breathing exercises.

Next: Mimic animals’ movements with this stretch. 

14. Cat/cow pose

Man performing cat pose

This move is great for your back. |

Another yoga pose for back pain sufferers is the cat/cow pose. On all fours, the back is convex and concave to mimic a cat and a cow. While the move may feel silly, back muscles are being stretched to release tension. The pose moves the back muscles in two different directions, according to Prevention. That way, back muscles are targeted from all angles.

Next: Start small with this move.

15. Side plank

Fit woman doing side plank yoga pose

A side plank can help relieve your back pain in no time. |

Planks are God’s gift to people with low back pain, Dr. Jordan Metzl writes. In his NBC News article, Metzl recommends performing three minutes of plank exercises a day. He suggests doing one minute in a traditional plank and one minute on each side. If a side plank with both feet stacked on top of one another is too difficult, lower one leg to support yourself.

Next: This exercise looks funny but it’s worth it.

16. Pelvic tilt to pelvic curl

male yoga practitioner in bridge pose

The pelvic tilt will help strengthen your core. |

A pelvic tilt to a pelvic curl is similar to a bridge. As with all exercises, form is crucial. Lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat to the floor, lift your pelvis then bring it back down to the floor, Very Well says. This sequence “teaches us to use our abdominal muscles in a way that supports and lengthens the lower back.”

Next: Channel your inner canine with this helpful move.

17. Bird dog

man performing bird-dog ab exercise

The “bird dog” pose |Source: iStock

It looks easy, but the “bird dog” gets more challenging the longer you maintain it. You don’t need to be highly coordinated to practice this core-strengthening exercise. It will gently strengthen your back and abdominal muscles, which support your posterior.

Next: Channel your inner swan.

18. Swan prep

Man performing swan prep

This move is simple yet effective. |

This move “strengthens the back extensors, the muscles the [that] hold us upright,” according to Very Well. “These muscles are often weak and over-stretched in people who have back pain.” With arms tucked close to the body, lying face down on the mat, life your chest up, lengthening your spine. While the move may not involve big movement, swan prep is effective.

Next: Want a strong, flexible spine? Do this move regularly.

19. Twists

Senior couple performing yoga exercise

The yoga twist is perfect for your spine. |

Yoga Journal says twists can be transformative for those with back pain and those who spend their days sitting down. “Twisting has the potential to help decompress the discs and elongate the spine, opening the spaces between the vertebrae, activating the muscles around the discs, and increasing blood flow to the spinal area to deliver pain-fighting, healing, anti-inflammatory oxygen.” Do the move regularly and you’ll have a strong, flexible spine.

Next: The general impact of exercise on your back

20. Overall? Move more

Man walking on pavement

Get moving! |

Bed rest for back pain isn’t the best plan, according to Harvard Medical School. “Limit the time you are lying down to a few hours at a stretch, and for no longer than a day or two.” Doctors don’t often suggest strict bed rest for back pain. Instead, they suggest the opposite.

“We know now that staying in strict bed rest can actually exacerbate pain, so we essentially tell patients to take it easy and move as much as tolerated,” Jeffrey Goldstein, MD, Director of the Spine Service at the New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases, told Health.

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