15 easy lower back physical therapy exercises

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Lower back pain. If you didn’t already have it, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article, so it’s probably too late to go into the whole spiel about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. The good news, though, is that lower back pain treatments involving little more than exercise have been shown to be quite effective. In fact, physical therapy exercise is now recommended as the first-line treatment for chronic and non-specific low back pain, ahead of any medications or surgical interventions.

Which exercises are best for lower back pain?

When your back hurts, sometimes you feel like the best thing you can do is just lie down and rest. Once upon a time that was the recommendation, but not anymore. Now your doctor wants you to exercise—nothing too strenuous, though. There’s no need to hurt yourself further with a run or heavy weight lifting. Regular, simple exercise can get you the perfect posture and pain-free back you desire.

For relief from lower back pain, the best treatment is a regular routine of three types of low-intensity exercise: stretching, core strengthening, and low-impact aerobic conditioning.

Stretch every day

Stretching should feel good and provide quick relief for back pain. The trick is to find the stretch that works for you. Don’t do anything that hurts! A simple cat-cow (sometimes called a cat-camel) is a good place to start:

Or you can perform flexion of the lower back by lying down and bringing your bent knee towards your chest, one leg at a time or both at once:

For many people, a stretch to extend rather than flex the spine will provide greater relief:

After you’ve tried the flexion and extension stretches, you might want to give a trunk twist a try:

And finally, an important stretch related to back pain is the hamstring. Tight hamstrings are often associated with lower back pain.

We want to emphasize again that stretching should NOT hurt. If a stretch hurts, don’t push it so far or don’t perform that stretch at all. Pain could be a sign of a more serious underlying injury, so don’t be afraid to see a doctor or physical therapist.

Core strengthening

While stretching can provide quick temporary relief from low back pain, strengthening the core muscles that support the spine helps alleviate the problems causing your pain in the first place. You’ll want to perform exercises that give you balanced strength between your abdominal muscles and your back muscles.

The next video is long, but it takes you through a progression of basic core exercises from simple to harder, all designed to strengthen the abdominal muscles. In order, they are:

  1. Posterior pelvic tilt contraction (begins at 5:34);
  2. Bent knee leg raise (individual, then together) (6:30);
  3. Crunch (7:18);
  4. Leg raise with exercise ball (7:58);
  5. Leg raise and crunch with exercise ball (9:10)

Other exercises you might find helpful are the bridge pose:

And finally, the side plank:

Since strengthening exercises are more strenuous and your muscles may need recovery time, it’s okay to perform them every other day rather than every day, perhaps alternating your off days with aerobic exercise.

Aerobic exercise

Once again, this doesn’t need to be strenuous exercise. Just putting some movement into your day is going to be a great help to your back. There’s no need for videos to explain these classics:

  • Walking (flat surfaces preferred, avoiding ups, downs, and cambered surfaces)
  • Bicycling (although hunched-over racing bikes could be a problem)
  • Swimming