22 Best exercises and stretches for lower back pain

effective exercises for low back pain

Lower back pain is one of the most common problems experienced by adults in their thirties and beyond. Most of the low back pain emanates from bad habits like :

  • carrying heavy bags rather than using a bag with wheels to push your load
  • improper ways to handle heavy goods in workplaces
  • poor posture

With so many treatment options, exercise is one of the best ways to prevent or treat low back pain, especially if individuals are doing it properly. The lower back exercises should focus on the core muscles as they bring about stability and support to the human back and spine. 

Thus, the exercises we will discuss will be focused on challenging and strengthening the :

  • hips
  • spine 
  • pelvic floor 
  • and abdomen

Exercising is beneficial in so many ways, and everyone will be wise to join in and make exercising a part of their habits. Furthermore, the onset of low back pain can definitely be prevented or even delayed by adopting various forms of exercising.

Before doing any exercices, please read our article about symptoms and causes of Lower Back Pain and visit your doctor to find the cause of your pain.

No lower back pain ? We also have an article dedicated to back stretches exercises !

The 11 effective exercises to strengthen your lower back

1. The Glute Bridge

The gluteus maximus and transversus abdominus are activated by the bridge exercises. The gluteus maximus is an extensor muscle of the hip which forms the prominence of the buttocks. The transversus abdominus being the abdominal muscles. 

Directions :

  • With your knees bent, lie on your back and keep your feet flat on the ground.
  •  Avoiding to hold your breath, keep your abdominal muscles contracted. 
  • Lift your bums off the ground
  • for five to 10 seconds hold this position.
  •  And after 10 second, lower your body back down again, slowly.

2. The Dead Bug

To work out your abdominal muscles while working the arms and legs too. 

Directions :

  • Keep both your legs in the air while lying on your back,
  • And then to a 90-degree angles, lift and bend your hips and knees.
  • Keeping your back against the ground, squeeze your stomach muscles.
  • Straighten one leg in the air while lying on your back
  • Raise your foot off the floor and its opposing arm over your head.
  • Alternate the other leg and arm
  • Avoiding back arching 

3. Plank with Leg Lifts

Directions :

  • Assume a push-up position extending your elbows.
  • Let your hands rest on the ground under each shoulder. 
  • To keep your spine straight, keep your buttocks in line with your body not forgetting to engage the muscles.
  • lift one leg in the air and slowly lower it back down. Avoid tilting your pelvis.
  • Change legs doing the same and alternate them repeatedly. 

4. Side Plank

The oblique muscles and the gluteus medius are the targeted core in this exercise.

Directions :

  • Lie down on the floor,
  • turn to your right side stacking your legs on top of each other
  • With your knees straightened 
  • Lift your body off the ground with your spine kept straight. Your right elbow must be under your shoulder
  • This position must be maintained for about ten seconds
  • Lower yourself to the ground.
  • Repeat this exercise on the left side, and keep alternating sides.

5. Prone Flutters

The multifidi muscles are challenged in this exercise to strengthen your low back and to stabilize the spine. 

Directions :

  • Extend your arms over your head while lying on your stomach. 
  • Simultaneously lift your left leg and the right arm 
  • Simultaneously lift your left leg and your right arm
  • Repeat this exercise for few more minutes.

6. Bird dogs

This exercise works many core muscles; erector spinae, glutes, abdomen and shoulder blade. 

Directions :

  • On the floor, get onto your hands and knees
  • Let your low back flatten like at the top of the table to activate your stomach muscles.
  • lift your left arm and the right leg in the air until they are fully extended.
  • Keep your pelvis tight to avoid tilting.
  • Hold that position for 5-10 seconds.
  • Return to the floor and alternate hand and leg.
  • Repeat the routine. 

7. Prayer Plank

An exercise ball is used in this routine to challenge the transversus abdominis muscle. 

Directions :

  • Place your exercise ball in front of you while kneeling on the floor.
  • Clasping your hands together, you need to put your forearms on the ball.
  • With a neutral spine, assume a plank position. Let your abdominal muscles be contracted. 
  • Let your knees be lifted off  the floor.
  • Make sure to avoid resting your chest on the ball.
  • Keep the position for 5-10 seconds and then lower your knees to the ground again.

8. Press-up Back Extensions

Directions :

  • keep your hands underneath your shoulders after lying on your stomach.
  •  pushing down your hands
  • until you feel your shoulders lift away from the floor.
  • Let your elbows be set on the floor under your shoulders. 
  • Keep this position for several seconds.

Good to know : Chiropractors usually recommend this exercise to their patient for low back pain !

9. Wall Sits

Directions :

  • at a distance of about 10 to 12 inches, stand with your back facing the wall.
  • Your spine should be flat against the wall as you lean on it.
  • until your knees are bent slightly, slowly slide down the wall. With your low back pressed against the wall. 
  •  count to 10 while holding this position, then carefully slide back up the wall.
  • Do this 8 to 12 times.

10. Partial Crunches

The core strength workout is used to build strength in the patient’s lower back, partial crunches are introduced into a patients’ routine. This way of exercise is known to strengthen both the lower back and stomach muscles. 

Directions :

  • Bending your knees, lie back on the floor and keep your feet flat on the floor. 
  • You can choose to cross your arms around the chest or keep it behind your head
  • Tightening your stomach muscle, lift your shoulders from the floor breathing out. 
  • Be careful not to lead with your elbows 
  • Do not let your arms yank your neck off the floor. 
  • Continue on this position for one second
  • lower yourself back down to the floor harmoniously.
  • Repeat this 8-12 times. 
  • Rest your feet, tailbone and lower back against the floor as you do this exercise.

Good to know : This exercise is also one of the best exercise to lose belly fat !

11. Hamstring Stretches

The back of the leg is where we find some of the muscles supporting the functioning of the lower spine. Thus, this exercise target that area in order to relieve pressures on the leg thus improving the patients lower back. 

 Directions : 

  • With your knee bent lie on your back.
  • Beneath the ball of the unbent foot, thread a towel.
  • While straightening your knee, pull back on the towel slowly.
  • Let the back of your leg be gently stretched. 
  • For at least 15-30 seconds, hold the stretch.
  • Do this for each leg five times. 

8 sports that help reduce low back pain

Cardiovascular system is better strengthened by aerobics exercises. This is also the best way to lose weight if you are overweight which will help your lower back.

1. Pilates

This physical therapy incorporates breathing and stretching in a controlled manner. Most systematic reviews recommended Pilates as one off the most effective rehabilitation tool that has significantly reduced pain and disability in most people who used it.  

2. Yoga

This has been reported to improve functionality and slightly reduced pain in patients with chronic low back pain. A study showed the efficiency of Yoga where patients who started yoga and practice for 12 weeks had fewer symptoms of lower back pain than those who had to read books on caring for your back pain. 

3. Walking

One of the easiest form of physical therapy that is free of charge. However, for patients who have lost functionality or have a temporary disability, this could be challenging to do. 

And as such, patients should commit to supervised walking therapy for a long-term to ensure that the therapy is done steadily without putting pressure on the patient.

The long-term commitment to coordinated walking therapy has been reported to be as effective as other non-pharmacological interventions. People who could lose the motion abilities regained it over time through walking therapy. Walking is definitely a good therapy. 

4. Swimming

The water in the swimming pool lifts you up making you lighter. Thus, workouts in the pool do not make impact on your joints and as a result your back is fine. However, you must avoid moves that twists and turns as these could hurt your back. 

5. Cycling

This must be done with low impact workout as it strengthens the leg muscles supporting the spine relieving the pressure off from the back and spine. You just have to ensure your posture is right, i.e. no leaning forward. 

6. Dumbbells and kettlebells

Carrying a set of these weights on each hand while walking for some distance helps to strengthen your back as it creates stability and stiffness. Also, keeping your shoulder back and your spine straight to avoid injury. you could just ensure you start will less kg’s until you are comfortable increasing it a bit. 

7. Tai Chi 

An ancient Chinese exercise that is becoming popular globally. The good thing with Tai Chi is the tranquility and calmness that accompanies those that do it with synchronization of movements

Several studies confirmed the efficiency of Tai Chi as it does not only deal with the physical pain, but also positively influence the person’s mental state. Thus, healing in this case start psychologically and then manifest physically. 

Three mechanisms of Tai Chi

Movement

  • Slow and fluid movements
  • Low-impact exercise
  • Improve posture, balance and alignment

Breathing 

  • Rhythmical breathing
  • Strong circulation encouraged
  • Forces oxygenated blood to the muscle and brain
  • Body relaxation 

Meditation 

  • Reduce anxiety and stress
  • Emotional boosters
  • Pain reliever

Source

8. Foam roll

This is said to be one of the easiest and quickest ways to reduce low back pain. However, reports show that most people use foam rollers incorrectly, by rolling their backs facing upwards on it. Incorrect use wont yield expected outcomes.

Uses :

  • Hip flexors : the first place to use your foam roller. The hip flexor connects to the lumbar spine, and so rolling the hip has a good effect on your lumbar spine.
  • Glute muscle : strengthening these muscles will sure have a good effect on your spine and tackle to low back pain.
  • Calves : restoring flexibility on the calf muscle eliminate lower back pain. 

5 effective stretches for low back pain

Who said you need the gym to reduce low back pain. Several studies recommend a lot of useful tips that can be done in your workplace, when you wake up or even before sleep, to soothe your low back pain problem. These can be done while standing, seated or on the floor; 

1. Standing stretches

Just take breaks and stand or walk around in between your work schedules.

2. Stretches of trunk extension 

  • With your feet shoulders apart, stand firm
  • Place your hands on the back side of your waistline
  • Increasing the arch of your back, slowly lean backward.
  • Feel the abdominal muscle stretch and just a slight pressure on your back.
  • Hold the position for 15-20 seconds and repeat again and again.

3. Standing Quadriceps

  • In your upright position, let the desk support your hands. 
  • Use the chair behind you to put your one foot. 
  • Choosing the part of the chair your body is flexible enough to reach like the seat/arm/or back.
  • Keep the foot on the ground pointed forward, slightly bending your knee
  • While contracting your glutes, slowly push your pelvis forward
  • Feel your hips and thighs stretched
  • For 15-20 seconds hold the position.
  • Alternate side 3-5 times. 

4. Sitting stretches

There are some stretches that can be effectively done while you are seated.

Stretch for your lateral trunk 

  • Lift up your arm over your head
  • For support, the other hand must be on your thigh
  • Bend to the opposite side carefully
  • the side of your trunk must stretch comfortably
  • For 15-20 seconds hold the position.
  • Alternate side 3-5 times. 

knee to chest stretches

  • Raise one knee in a marching position util your hands can reach it.
  • With your hands, pull the bent knee up toward your chest
  • Continue until the lower back and the back of the hip should gently stretch
  • Keep your hands on top or behind your knee for comfort 
  • For 15-20 seconds hold the position.
  • Alternate side 3-5 times. 

Seated hamstring stretch

  • With your knee straight, keep your heel rested on the floor 
  • Until a stretch is felt behind your knee and thigh, lean forward gently
  • To focus the stretch on the hamstring muscle, keep your low back straight
  • For 15-20 seconds hold the position.
  • Alternate side 3-5 times. 

stretch for the figure 

  • Sit your ankle over the opposite knee
  • Let your one leg cross over the opposite knee
  • On the knee of the crossed leg you must place one hand
  • Lean forward with your trunk
  • Let the crossed knee be gently pressed
  • The hip and buttock area must feel stretched
  • For 15-20 seconds hold the position.
  • Alternate side 3-5 times. 

5. Stretches of the floor

Stretched one knee to chest

  • bring one knee up toward your chest while lying on the floor
  • Gently pull up the knee toward your chest while holding it with your hands
  • The low back, hip and buttock is stretched moderately.
  • For 15-20 seconds hold the position.
  • Change to another knee and start over 
  • This can be repeated for 3-5 times

Double knee to chest stretch

  • Bring both knees up to the chest
  • Gently pull up the knees toward your chest while holding them with your hands
  • The low back, hip and buttock is stretched moderately
  • For 15-20 seconds hold the position.
  • Alternate side 3-5 times

Stretches for the supine piriformis 

  • Slowly bring one knee up toward your chest while lying on the floor
  • pull up the knee across your body toward the opposite shoulder, 
  • hold the knee with your two hands
  • For 15-20 seconds hold the position.
  • Do the same for the other knee 
  • Alternate between the knees 3-5 times

Lower trunk rotation stretch

  • With your knees bended, keep your feet and knees together
  • Knees must be lowered on one side
  • For 15-20 seconds hold the position.
  • Alternate between the knees 3-5 times

Prayer stretch

  • Kneeling on the floor, keep your hands in front of your knees
  • Let the buttocks be lowered toward your feet
  • For 15-20 seconds hold the position.
  • Alternate side 3-5 times

Lateral prayer stretch

  • Kneeling on the floor, keep your hands to one side of your body. 
  • Let the buttocks be lowered toward your feet
  • For 15-20 seconds hold the position.
  • Alternate side 3-5 times

6 Bad exercises to avoid for lower back pain

Although exercising works effectively in preventing low back pain, improper techniques in doing the exercises can do more harm than good. That’s why it is important that patients with low back pain do this activates under professional supervision. 

However, some activities can be done at home without the professional after the patient is trained enough to handle it alone at home. These are some of the exercises to skip or avoid; 

1. The Sit-Ups

  • Sit-ups workouts do not strength your core 
  •  more hip muscles are used in this workout so that does not strengthen the core. 
  • These also create pressure on spinal disks leading to injury and thus increasing your lower back pain 

2. Toes-touching and twisting the spine

  • The spine is rounded by repetitive toe touching and the lumbar curve is pressurized as a result. 
  • Can be harmful to the intervertebral discs
  • Cause spine deteriorations.  

3. Cycling with a rounded back

  • Leaning forward while cycling or biking can hurt the lumbar curve.
  • Long distance cycling is also bad as it puts strain on your back.

4. Running

  • Sprinting fast puts pressure on the joints and spine and thus lead to lower back pain.

5. Avoid Leg Lifts

  • Lifting both legs together can aggravate your back pain leading to more injuries.

6. Weight lifts

Lifting heavy weights can aggravate the lower back pain

Other benefits of exercising

Exercising is for everyone, young and old, sick and healthy, pregnant etc. This is because exercising has preventive effects to diseases and conditions, and also curative effects. (source)

Conclusion 

There are many more exercises and therapies that are effective for reducing and prevent low back pain.  with time there will be more technology creating equipment to assist people whenever, wherever.

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