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. | iStock.com

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

2. Twists

Senior couple performing yoga exercise

The yoga twist is perfect for your spine. | iStock.com/Wavebreakmedia

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: It seems too simple — but it works.

3. Walking

Carefree mature woman walking barefoot at beach

A nice walk can help ease your mind. | iStock.com/m-imagephotography

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 exercise looks funny but it’s worth it.

4. Pelvic tilt to pelvic curl

male yoga practitioner in bridge pose

The pelvic tilt will help strengthen your core. | iStock.com

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: Reduce stress with this no-equipment technique.

5. Practice breathing

Man practicing meditation on the beach

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

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

6. Pilates

Two women doing Pilates

Pilates are a great low-impact exercise. | iStock.com

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: Mimic animals’ movements with this stretch. 

7. Cat/cow pose

Man performing cat pose

This move is great for your back. | iStock.com

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: This challenging move is worth the effort.

8. Standard planks

young woman in sportswear doing plank

Planks can help alleviate back pain. | iStock.com/g-stockstudio

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: A simple stretch that will transform your back woes

9. 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. | iStock.com

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: Start small with this move.

10. Side plank

Fit woman doing side plank yoga pose

A side plank can help relieve your back pain in no time. | iStock.com/undrey

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: Channel your inner swan.

11. Swan prep

Man performing swan prep

This move is simple yet effective. | iStock.com

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: Work your entire body.

12. Forearm plank

Young man doing planks

The forearm plank is a little more difficult. | iStock.com/gpointstudio

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: This old form of exercise still works wonders.

13. Yoga

Young woman doing yoga

Yoga will give your body a good stretch. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

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: The general impact of exercise on your back

14. Overall? Move more

Man walking on pavement

Get moving! | iStock.com

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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