Lower back pain exercises

A series of exercise routines you can do to help reduce any lower back pain (occasionally referred to as low back pain), including tension, stiffness and soreness.

These exercises from physiotherapist and BackCare expert Nick Sinfield help to stretch, strengthen and mobilise the lower back.

You are advised to seek medical advice before starting these back pain exercises, and to stop immediately if you feel any pain.


Bottom to heels stretch

Stretches and mobilises the spine

Start position: Kneel on all fours, with your knees under hips and hands under shoulders. Don't over-arch your lower back. Keep your neck long, your shoulders back and don't lock your elbows.

Action: Slowly take your bottom backwards, maintaining the natural curve in the spine. Hold the stretch for one deep breath and return to the starting position.

Repeat eight to 10 times.

Tips:

  • Avoid sitting back on your heels if you have a knee problem.
  • Ensure correct positioning with the help of a mirror.
  • Only stretch as far as feels comfortable.


Knee rolls

Stretches and mobilises the spine

Start position: Lie on your back. Place a small flat cushion or book under your head. Keep your knees bent and together. Keep your upper body relaxed and your chin gently tucked in.

Action: Roll your knees to one side, followed by your pelvis, keeping both shoulders on the floor. Hold the stretch for one deep breath and return to the starting position

Repeat eight to 10 times, alternating sides.

Tips:

  • Only move as far as feels comfortable.
  • Place a pillow between your knees for comfort.


Back extensions

Stretches and mobilises the spine backwards

Start position: Lie on your stomach, and prop yourself on your elbows, lengthening your spine. Keep your shoulders back and neck long.

Action: Keeping your neck long, arch your back up by pushing down on your hands. You should feel a gentle stretch in the stomach muscles as you arch backwards. Breathe and hold for five to 10 seconds. Return to the starting position.

Repeat eight to 10 times.

Tips: 

  • Don't bend your neck backwards.
  • Keep your hips grounded. 


Deep abdominal strengthening

Strengthens the deep supporting muscles around the spine

Start position: Lie on your back. Place a small, flat cushion or book under your head. Bend your knees and keep your feet straight and hip-width apart. Keep your upper body relaxed and your chin gently tucked in.

Action: As you breathe out, draw up the muscles of your pelvis and lower abdominals, as though you were doing up an imaginary zip along your stomach. Hold this gentle contraction while breathing from your abdomen for five to 10 breaths and relax.

Repeat five times.

Tips:

  • This is a slow, gentle tightening of the lower abdominal region. Don't pull these muscles in using more than 25% of your maximum strength.
  • Make sure you don't tense up through the neck, shoulders or legs.


Pelvic tilts

Stretches and strengthens the lower back

Start position: Lie on your back. Place a small, flat cushion or book under your head. Bend your knees and keep your feet straight and hip-width apart. Keep your upper body relaxed and your chin gently tucked in.

Action: Gently flatten your low back into the floor and contract your stomach muscles. Now tilt your pelvis towards your heels until you feel a gentle arch in your lower back, feeling your back muscles contracting and return to the starting position. 

Repeat 10 to 15 times, tilting your pelvis back and forth in a slow rocking motion.

Tips:

  • Keep your deep abdominals working throughout.
  • Don't press down through the neck, shoulders or feet.

Modification
Place one hand on your stomach and the other under your lower back to feel the correct muscles working.

Page last reviewed: 01/02/2013

Next review due: 01/02/2015

Ratings

How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 413 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating

Comments

The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

mrman88 said on 11 November 2014

I have suffered sever episodes of backpain. I have also hasd a relative who, althoguh barely able to walk with back pain was told to take paracetomol and treated as if she were wasting the doctors time. A second opinion and an xray revealed misaligned vertebrae requiring major surgery to prevent serios long term damage. I am therfore sceptical about the main stream understanding of back pain. Its disconcerting to see spinal hyperextension excercises recommended here. Any good excercise book or instructor in a gym will advise against spinal hyperextension as being an unatural and potentially straining movement. This reinforces my experience that back pain is little understood and that often the standard NHS advice is not always good or scientific. It is my experience that a lot of "wisdom" regarding bad backs is unquestioned old fashioned ideas with no empirical evidence behind it. This idemonstarted by the "if nothing else works give them CBT approach". In fairness to modern medicine the spine is incredibly complex but I'd rather be told there is limited understanding than be given advice that could even make things worse under the guise that it is evidence based and solid. A good place to start for a scientific understanding is the book "low back disorders" by Stuart Mcgill. Its quite technical but it is very enlightening. It looks into previous scientific studies on causes of back pain and takes a detailed look at the anatomy of the spine and ow different movement patterns can load and strain it. There are also some useful excercises. I would thoroughly recommend not taking the first advice as defintive and to seek second and third opinions.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Sylvie Orp said on 01 November 2014

Very practical, thank you. However a note at the beginning of the exercises on how to get on the floor safely in the first place, and a note at the end about how to get back to standing position at the end would be very useful.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Allison02 said on 29 May 2014

I am 28 years old and I am an athlete. I am facing a great problem in my lower back side. It's really hampered my daily activities. To read your above post I am truly hopeful to get rid of from this irritating back pain. Thanks for sharing this article which is really helpful for me.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

A Bickersteth said on 03 April 2014

A very useful article and I have tried doing the exercises. I could have tried them out more easily had there been an audio / video version (ie a recording of someone talking you through each exercise and how to do it). Trying to read off the screen and maintain a good posture at the same time proved rather difficult!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

mhuizing said on 25 February 2014

Most doctors recommend a slow build-up to the maximum repetition as suggested in the article.
Tip: Create an exercise schedule in an Excel worksheet and gradually increase the exercise repetition.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable