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Exercises and Stretches for Back Pain

Posted by Jill Derryberry on Jul 17, 2023 9:38:13 AM
Jill Derryberry
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Exercises and Stretches For Back Pain 


Does your back hurt?  Probably many of you are shaking your heads yes right now because a 2019 survey from the CDC found that 39% of adults had experienced back pain in the past three months when surveyed.  Back pain can range from general muscle aches to a stabbing pain.  It is one of the most common complaints I hear as a trainer, and it is one of the most common reasons people seek medical treatment or miss work.  Luckily, maintaining a strong and healthy body (especially a strong core) can help prevent or relieve most back pain.  If you do suffer from a sore back, it’s important to identify the reason your back is hurting and to know if it is simply a pain like a muscle ache or strain, or if it is a structural issue with the spine or disk problems with the disks that cushion the vertebrae (the small spinal bones).  Some pain or achiness can be the result of being sedentary too long or from arthritis.  Other times it may be a result of an event like an accident or illness.  The Mayo Clinic recommends seeing your doctor about your back pain if it: 


  • Lasts longer than a few weeks. 
  • Is severe and doesn’t improve with rest. 
  • Spreads down one or both legs, especially if the pain goes below the knee. 
  • Causes weakness, numbness, or tingling in one or both legs. 
  • Is paired with unexplained weight loss. 


Exercise will help to strengthen the muscles that support the spine which removes pressure from the spinal discs and reduces the risk of injury.  Movement will also improve mobility, flexibility, and stiffness.  All of which can reduce pain.  A balanced workout plan is best and should include both stretching and strengthening as well as aerobic exercise that elevates the heart rate. 


In many cases, exercise and stretching most likely will help reduce your back pain and will help to prevent back pain from occurring.  However, some injuries require up to a few weeks of rest to heal the issue, so it’s important to identify the cause of your discomfort before launching into the exercises and stretches below.  Please consult with your doctor if you aren’t sure.   


Exercises for Back Pain 


Start with your breath.  When performing exercises or stretches, be mindful of your breathing.  Focus on taking nice long inhales and exhales and relaxing the muscles in your back.   


Walking is a great exercise anytime and that includes when your back is hurting.  How far and how often you go is a matter of how your body tolerates it and can be different for everyone.  Start by going a short distance and slowly add more time to your walk as the weeks go by.    With this and any exercise, stop if the activity is causing pain.   

The Superman Exercise is a great way to build strength and stability in your lower back and core muscles. 

  • Lie on your stomach with your arms stretched out in front of you. Engage your abdominal muscles by drawing your navel in toward your spine. 
  • Lift your arms, head, and legs off the ground about five inches. 
  • Hold the position for 3-5 seconds and then relax. Repeat this several times, building up to more reps or holds if desired. 

Birddogs are another move that works many muscles of the core and builds strength and stability in the back as well as other parts of the core.   

-Kneel on the floor, knees hip-width apart, with your hands firmly placed on the ground about shoulder-width apart. Engage your abdominal muscles by drawing your navel in toward your spine. 

- First, practice lifting one hand and the opposite knee just an inch or two off the floor while balancing on the other hand and knee and keeping your weight centered. 

-When you feel steady and ready to move on to full range of motion, point the arm out straight in front and extend the opposite leg behind you. You should form one straight line from your hand to your foot, hips squared to the ground. However, if your low back begins to sag, raise your leg only as high as you can while keeping your back straight. 

-Return to the starting position and complete 3-4 sets of 10 reps on each side. You can add a light weight in your hand when you become comfortable with this exercise. 

A rack pull is a type of deadlift that is great for anyone with limited hamstring flexibility.  Rack pulls are good for both glute strength and lower back strength.  Start with a light weight as you perfect your form with this exercise. 

  • Place a barbell on a rack or boxes, with the bar high enough that it’s just below the knees.  Stand with feet hip-width apart and keep your feet flat on the floor with the weight balanced in both feet throughout the entire move.  Knees should be soft.   
  • Keeping your back straight, hinge at your hips shifting them back.  Grab the bar with both hands, about shoulder-width apart. 
  • Push your feet evenly into the floor as you stand up keeping the bar close to the body.   
  • Lower the bar back down toward the rack or blocks, hitting that hip hinge position again.  
  • Repeat 3 sets of 5 reps. 

The Lat Pulldown targets the latissimus dorsi, more commonly referred to as the "lats," which is the muscle just under the armpits and spreading across and down the back. 

-Sit at the Lat Pulldown station and grab the bar with an overhand grip that’s just beyond shoulder width. Your arms should be completely straight and your torso upright. 

-Pull your shoulder blades down and back and bring the bar to your chest. Pause, then slowly return to the starting position. 

-Complete 3-4 sets of 10-12 repetitions on each side. 

Stretches for Back Pain 


When stretching, listen to your body and only push to the point of feeling a stretch.  Stop any movements that feel painful.   


Side Bend 

  • Stand with your arms stretched up straight over your head. 
  • Plant your feet firmly to the ground, about hip-width apart. 
  • Place your right hand around your left wrist and lean your body over to the right side.  Try to keep your hips straight as you stretch. 
  • Hold for 5-10 seconds. 
  • Return to center. 
  • Repeat on the other side. 



  • Start on all fours on the floor or place both hands flat on a counter, desk, or tabletop, keeping your arms straight.  Make sure your hands are directly underneath your shoulders and if on the floor, your knees are directly below your hips.   
  • Gently round your back, bringing your chin down toward your chest and breathing in. 
  • Exhale and arch your back and lift your head to look up. 
  • Slowly flow between each move, three to five times.   


Child’s Pose  

  • Start on all fours on the floor or on a bed. 
  • Move your hips back toward your heels. 
  • Your arms and hands should be outstretched on either side of your head, reaching forward. 
  • Rest your forehead on the floor or other surface.   
  • Hold the pose for 10-30 seconds. 


When your back is hurting, gentle movement can help lessen the pain in many cases.  Consult your doctor prior to starting any new exercise routine and to identify the cause of your pain if you are unsure.  General back aches and stiffness can be helped by light exercise and stretching – moving your body!  Keep your back healthy and strong by building muscle strength, increasing flexibility and performing regular aerobic activity.