The Do’s and Don’ts of Lower Back Pain Exercises

Lower back pain exercises can give you relief, but the wrong moves can leave you in even more agony – and possibly send you to the ER. These tips will put you on the road to recovery.

Lower back bothering you? Two-thirds of people in the US will have lower-back pain symptoms in their lives, according to the American Physical Therapy Association.

For less-serious back pain symptoms, the best way to keep them at bay is to stay active. The natural response to pain is to do less, but that is not always the best thing for you when dealing with back pain. Exercise helps muscles relax and increases blood flow to the area.

Here’s some advice on what might work – and won’t – for your back pain symptoms.

1. Don’t just lie there. 

It’s tempting to rest until pain subsides, but taking to bed for more than a day or two may make your back pain symptoms worse, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Simple activities are best when you’re starting to recover from pain. Walking is an excellent activity to start. We recommend walking 10-15 minutes twice a day at a moderate pace.

2. Stretch out. 

The right stretches help calm low-back spasms. 

Do these “back-friendly” stretches in the morning and evening, 8 to 10 times each:

The back-pocket stretch: Stand up and place both hands behind you as if putting them in the rear pockets of your jeans; look up and extend (arch) your back.

Press-ups: Lie on your stomach and place your hands on the floor as if you were starting a push-up. Press just your upper body up, allowing your lower back to sag by keeping your hips close to the ground. Hold for 5-8 seconds.

3. Find out which moves make lower back pain worse.

The most common back pain is “extension syndrome,” which usually causes discomfort while standing.

Causes include sitting for hours without using your chair’s backrest and habitually standing with locked-out knees (where they’re straightened to the point that they’re hyperextended backwards, putting pressure on the joint). 

Here’s how to tell if you have extension syndrome: Lie on your back for 30 seconds with your legs out straight. Then bend your knees so your feet are resting on the ground near your behind and wait 30 seconds. 

If your back feels better with your knees bent, you probably have extension syndrome.

4. Don’t work through the pain.

If it hurts to bend backward, don’t.

Pressing into a painful position can cause further tissue damage and aggravate any damage.

Tip: If workouts hurt, focus on stabilization moves like planks. Do 10-20 second holds for 3 to 5 repetitions.

5. Don’t ignore the hurt.

Most back pain symptoms are self-limiting – if you don’t make them worse, they’ll probably heal within days or weeks. But if it doesn’t go away on its own, don’t ignore the pain and continue to work out. This can cause further damage. Plus, excessive activity can just reinforce the movement patterns that helped you develop back pain in the first place. 

So take another look at the back exercise you’re doing. Is it too intense? Could the movements be aggravating your back issues?

Chronic pain should disappear once these issues are corrected. If it doesn’t, see a doctor.