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6 Exercises to Reduce Back Pain
Back pain is a common reason for doctor’s visits, with an estimated 65 million Americans experiencing back pain each year. Of those, 16 million will experience chronic back pain that severely limits their ability to perform everyday tasks. It is estimated that 83 million work days are lost each year due to back pain alone.1
Frequent back pain can hinder your mobility and limit what you’re able to accomplish each day. However, studies show that back pain exercises can help strengthen the muscles and improve blood flow, which reduces irritation.
Here are 6 back pain exercises that can help strengthen your lower back and help you reduce back pain. It’s important to continuously practice different exercises not only to reduce back pain, but also minimize your risk of developing back pain in the future.
What Causes Back Pain?
There are many different causes of back pain, and your doctor will be able to help you identify the exact cause if needed.
Some of the most common causes of back pain according to the Mayo Clinic include:2
- Bulging or ruptured disks. Your body contains discs that have soft, cushioning material between the bones in your spine. However, the material can bulge or rupture, which can push on your nerves and spinal cord. These are usually detected by an X-ray or a MRI.
- Muscle or ligament strain. Lifting objects or sudden movements can strain the body’s ligaments. There is also the possibility for frequent muscle spasms if you’re not in the best physical condition.
- Arthritis. It’s been found that arthritis, specifically osteoarthritis, can affect the lower back. Osteoarthritis can cause pain and swelling that affects the joints.3 Arthritis can also narrow the space in the spinal cord and cause spinal stenosis, a condition that can put pressure on the nerves in your spine.
- Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis can cause brittle bones that break easier. It is common in older adults and can affect the spine, which can limit mobility.4
If you experience severe back pain, talk with your doctor to identify the cause.
Back Pain Exercises
Regularly stretching your body’s muscles and ligaments can reduce tension in the muscles and help improve your overall mobility. Here are 6 exercises that you can start practicing to reduce your risk of back pain.
Knee-to-chest exercises have been found to relieve pain and relax the muscles in the hips, glutes, and thighs.
To perform the knee-to-chest exercise safely, follow these steps:5
- Lie on your back on the floor
- Keep one knee bent or laid flat on the floor
- Use your hands and bring your other knee to your chest. You should grab behind the thigh or top of the shin bone
- Keep your lower back on the floor and lengthen your spine. Avoid lifting the hips
- Hold the knee to your chest for 30 seconds – 1 minute
- Repeat with the other leg
Bridges strengthen your glutes as well as the hamstrings in the back of your thighs. Bridges can help improve the core as well as stabilize the spine.
The steps for how to perform bridges are:6
- Lie on your back, on a mat if you have one
- Rest your hands at your sides while bending your knees and keeping your feet flat on the floor
- Push your lower back to the ground to tighten your abdominal and buttock muscles
- Raise the hips and create a straight line from the knees to the shoulders, while keeping your shoulders and upper back firmly planted on the floor
- Squeeze your core and pull your stomach in – think about making your ribs and hipbones touch
- Hold position for 20-30 seconds
- Lower the hips back to your starting position
Another exercise for back pain is called a Cat-Cow, which is named after the positions you switch between that resemble a cat and cow. Cat-Cow exercises focus on your spine, shoulders, neck, and chest.
The steps to do Cat-Cow exercises are:5
- Place your hands and knees on the ground in a tabletop position and make sure you have a flat back
- Press your hands and feet as you look upwards and arch up
- Exhale as you tuck your chin in and arch your spine to the ceiling to perform the next position
- Continue this pattern for 1-2 minutes
Leg slides can help reduce back pain because they can work out the muscles around your spinal column, which can improve your back and lower core strength.
The steps to do leg slides:7
- Lay down on your back, facing towards the ceiling
- Place your hands over your hips or chest
- Pull in your abdominal muscles as you breath in
- Slide one leg, making sure you place your heel on the ground. Keep the heel on the ground as you slide your leg all the way out similar to a snow angel
- Keep the leg stretched outward for 20 seconds
- Return back to the starting position
The pelvic tilt is a great back pain exercise that can help strengthen the abdominal muscles. It is recommended for all when lying on your back, but those who want a challenge are welcome to try it standing up against a wall.8
The steps to do the pelvic tilt:9
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, and your keep arms flat on the floor by your side
- Flatten your back on the floor and breathe in
- Lift your pelvis upwards, about enough for the size of a hand to fit through. Keep your arms flat on the floor and your head on the mat. Your head should stay aligned with your spine
- As you exhale, use your abdominal muscles to tilt your tailbone upwards and slowly close in the space between the mat and the floor
- Hold the position for 10 seconds
The superman exercise is designed to help improve posture because the muscles it works out run along the spine.
The steps to performing a superman are as follows:10
- Lay down on your stomach
- Stretch your arms above the head and legs out from the body while keeping your stomach flat on the ground
- Breathe inwards to pull in your core muscles
- Keep your head straight and look at the floor
- Stretch the arms and legs while lifting up and squeezing the back muscles – make sure to keep your stomach planted on the ground
- Hold for 2 seconds
General Exercise Tips
When you exercise, it’s important to stay safe to prevent possible injuries. Here are some general back pain exercise tips you can use:
- Wear comfortable clothing
- Stretch slowly to avoid muscle pain
- Always exercise in a spacious, clean area
- Use mats and wear non-slip shoes to avoid falling
- Clean any exercise equipment before and after use
- Do not force your body into exercise positions
- Do not do quick, sudden movements
- Do not lift heavy weight without proper training
- Stop exercising if you experience severe pain
Keep Your Back Strong
It’s important to keep your back strong as you age to avoid potential injuries. Try incorporating some of these back pain exercises into your everyday workout routine to keep your back muscles strong.
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Saber Healthcare is an organization dedicated to providing consultant services to long term care providers. This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to be seen as professional advice. Please consult with a medical expert before relying on the information provided.
- “Chronic Back Pain.” Health Policy Institute. Accessed 17 December 2021. Link: https://hpi.georgetown.edu/backpain/
- “Back pain.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). 21 August 2020. Accessed 17 December 2021. Link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906
- “How Osteoarthritis Affects Your Joints.” Saber Healthcare Group. 4 September 2021. Accessed 17 December 2021. Link: https://www.saberhealth.com/news/blog/what-is-osteroarthritis
- “Osteoporosis: Signs and Risk Factors.” Saber Healthcare Group. 20 October 2021. Accessed 17 December 2021. Link: https://www.saberhealth.com/news/blog/osteoporosis-signs-and-risk-factors
- Cronkleton, Emily. Mathe, Brooke, ed. Red Ventures, Healthline Media. “7 Lower Back Stretches to Reduce Pain and Build Strength.” Last Updated 27 September 2021. Accessed 17 December 2021. Link: https://www.healthline.com/health/lower-back-stretches
- Quinn, Elizabeth. Laferrara, Tara, ed. “How to Do a Basic Bridge: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes.” Dotdash, VeryWellHealth. 27 August 2021. Accessed 17 December 2021. Link: https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-do-the-bridge-exercise-3120738
- “10 EXERCISES YOU SHOULD USE TO RECOVER FROM A BACK INJURY.” Comprehensive Spine Institute. 23 July 2018. Accessed 17 December 2021. Link: https://www.csiortho.com/blog/2018/july/10-exercises-you-should-use-to-recover-from-a-ba/
- Asher, Anne. DelCollo, Jason, ed. “Pelvic Tilts for Back Pain.” Dotdash, VeryWellHealth. Last updated 18 April 2020. Accessed 17 December 2021. Link: https://www.verywellhealth.com/pelvic-tilt-exercise-for-your-lower-back-296802
- “Pelvic tilt exercise.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Accessed 17 December 2021. Link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/labor-and-delivery/multimedia/pelvic-tilt-exercise/img-20006410
- Cadman, Bethany. Minnis, Gregory. “How to strengthen the lower back.” MedicalNewsToday. Accessed 17 December 2021. Link: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323204