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Back Pain Exercises and Stretches

Peer Reviewed

These exercises we've put together for back pain can be used in a couple of ways.

General Back Ache
You may have woken up with back pain, a leftover strain from something you did yesterday. Perhaps you lifted something heavy without using proper lifting techniques, or maybe your back couldn't take the strain of gardening all afternoon. Your pain isn't severe enough to go into the doctor; in fact, most back pain is a muscle sprain or strain that will go away on its own in a few weeks.

But until your pain goes away, you'd like some easy exercises and stretches to do to bring relief. In that case, these exercises will help you.

Learn easy, gentle exercises and stretches to help you maintain a healthy spine in our back and neck pain exercises slideshow.

General Back Health
Let's face it: even if you don't have back pain right now, you probably have had it at some point—and you'll probably have it again. To keep your back healthy, you should try to keep it strong, mobile, and flexible. Going through these easy stretches and exercises will help you do just that. Consider incorporating them into your normal exercise routine or making them something you do when you first get up every day.

For maximum benefit, you should do these stretches in the order that they're listed here.

Pelvic Tilt
Knee to Chest
Lower Trunk Rotation
Hamstring Stretch
Bridge

Back Pain Stretch #1: Pelvic Tilt

Purpose
The pelvic tilt strengthens your lower abdominal muscles and stretches your low back (lumbar spine). 

Instructions

  • Start on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  • As you exhale, contract your abdominal muscles, pushing your belly button towards the floor and flattening your low back.
  • Hold 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Cautions
While doing the pelvic tilt, do not push out your abdominal muscles or raise your low back off the floor. You need to pull your abdominals in towards the floor. (It really does help to think about pushing your belly button in towards your back.)

Back Pain Stretch #2: Knee to Chest

Purpose
The knee to chest stretch is used to stretch your hip and low back (lumbar spine) muscles. It should also help relieve pressure on spinal nerves by creating more space for those nerves as they exit the spine. 

Instructions

  • Start on your back.
  • Gently pull one knee towards your chest, using your hands to hold your leg in the stretch.
  • Hold 10 seconds. You should feel a stretch in your low back and hip.
  • Switch legs and pull your other knee towards your chest, again holding 10 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 to 5 times with each leg.
  • Bring both legs to your chest, holding 10 seconds and repeating 3 to 5 times.

Back Pain Stretch #3: Lower Trunk Rotation

Purpose
By doing the lower trunk rotation, you will work on increasing flexibility in your low back (lumbar spine) and hips, allowing for greater mobility and rotation in the spine. 

Instructions

  • Start on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  • With your knees together, bring them to one side. Your feet should stay on the floor.
  • Hold 3 to 5 seconds.
  • Contract your abdominal muscles while moving your legs to the opposite side, again holding for 3 to 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 5 to 10 times on each side.

Back Pain Stretch #4: Hamstring Stretch

Purpose
Tight hamstrings can contribute to low back pain. This hamstring stretch may decrease tension in the back of your leg and low back. 

Instructions

  • Start on your back.
  • Keeping your leg as straight as possible, gently pull it up until you feel a comfortable stretch. You can use a towel to help you pull.
  • Hold 10 to 20 seconds.
  • Switch to the other leg, again holding 10 to 20 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times on each side.

Back Pain Stretch #5: Bridge

Purpose
The bridge strengthens your low back and hip muscles, helping stabilize your spine. 

Instructions

  • Start on your back with your arms by your side. Your knees should be bent, and your feet should be flat on the floor.
  • Slowly raise your hips off the floor, contracting your glutes (your buttocks) and your hamstrings as you go.
  • Hold 3 to 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times.
Updated on: 11/12/12
Nicola V. Hawkinson, DNP, RN
This article was reviewed by Nicola V. Hawkinson, RN, RNFA, NP.
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