8 Simple Exercises for Lower Back Pain

Your lower back works hard, and we don’t always give it the care it deserves. Here are reasons your lower back may be hurting and simple exercises to help.

There are quite a few issues that could be causing lower back pain. You can address some with exercise, but others require medical attention. Your lower back supports most of the weight of your upper body, and that puts a lot of stress on the muscles and on that part of your spine. Back pain—including lower back pain—is very common in the U.S. In fact, one orthopedic surgeon estimates that 80 percent of Americans will deal with back pain in their lifetimes.

Your lower back works hard, and we don't always give it the care it deserves. Here are reasons your lower back may be hurting and simple exercises to help!

A herniated disc is the most common cause of lower back pain. It occurs when a disc in your spine weakens, becomes inflamed and protrudes. Usually, a herniated disc is associated with sudden pain that radiates out from the injured area. This is called sciatica. Some of the exercises below can help reduce the pressure and inflammation from a herniated disc, but you should definitely work with a doctor as well, especially if the pain is severe or interfering with your daily life.

Lower back pain can also signal serious conditions like a pinched nerve, diabetes, or a bladder or kidney infection. It may sound strange, but there’s a strong link between smoking and lower back pain, as well. If your low back pain is severe or persists for more than a couple of weeks, definitely talk to your doctor.

Not all lower back pain is a serious condition, though. You could just be overdoing it in the yard or it may be time to flip your mattress. In the case of mild lower back pain, these exercises can really help give your body some stretching and some support.

As with any exercise, if doing these moves causes you more pain, skip it. You don’t want to exacerbate a mild injury and make it worse.

pelvic tilt

1. The Not-Crunch

You’ve probably heard “lift with your knees, not with your back,” and this is great advice for preventing lower back pain. You can take even more pressure off of your back by strengthening your ab muscles. When your abs are weaker, your lower back has to compensate during heavy lifting. This gentle not-crunch can help with herniated disc pain as well as muscle-related lower back pain. Just listen to your body, and remember: if it hurts, don’t do it!

This simple abdominal contraction helps gently build your abs without stressing your back. Lie down on your back with your knees bent, and pull in your ab muscles. Think about pulling your bellybutton toward the floor and toward your rib cage, and be sure not to hold your breath. Hold for a slow count of 5, release and repeat, working up to 10 repetitions.

Salamba Sarvangasana on lake

2. Supported Shoulder Stand

A supported shoulder stand is a great, simple exercise to strengthen your core while taking pressure off of your lower back. Fold a couple of blankets and place them on the floor. Lie down on your back with your upper body on the blankets and your head on the floor. Bend your knees, then engage your abs and roll your knees toward your chin. Slowly straighten your legs, lifting them toward the sky. Use your hands to support your lower back, and keep your abs, legs and butt engaged. Breathe deeply, and hold this posture for as long as is comfortable.

3. Easy Leg Raises

If your lower back is already hurting, standard leg raises are not going to feel good. This toned-down variation helps build strength without impacting your back so much. Lie on your back with your knees bent, and slide your right leg until it’s resting straight on the floor. Inhale, and when you exhale, engage your abs and lift that straightened right leg just six to 12 inches off the floor. Hold for up to 5 seconds, then release. Switch legs, and repeat the exercise on the left side. Work up to doing this pair of lifts 10 times.

4. Knee to Chest Pose

This pose does double duty: it gently strengthens your abs while stretching your lower back. Lie on your back with your feet hip-distance apart and your arms parallel to your sides. Bend your right knee, and lift your foot off of the floor. Engage your abs and hug your right knee into your chest while you focus on keeping your lower back as close to the floor as possible. Try to keep your upper body relaxed, using just your arms to pull. If you start to feel pain, back off a bit until it subsides. Stay in this space, breathing deeply, for as long as you like, then repeat with the left leg.

5. Wall Squats

Improving your posture takes pressure off of your spine. This supported squat is a gentle way to address posture issues. Stand up straight with your back against the wall, then walk your feet out about 12 inches, while leaving your whole back plastered to the wall. Bend your knees into a squat, making sure that your knees don’t protrude past your toes. Engage your abs and shoulder blades to keep your back pressed firmly to the wall. Hold for a slow count of 5 before releasing, and work up to 10 repetitions.

6. Child’s Pose

Is there anything that this restorative yoga pose can’t do? Child’s Pose gives your lower back a nice break from the pressure of supporting your body all day. Begin sitting on your knees with your bottom resting on your heels. Think about a string going up your spine and toward the sky, pulling your back straight and lengthening your neck. Then, raise your arms above your head and fold forward at the waist until your head is resting on the floor and your belly rests on your thighs. Place your outstretched palms on the floor in front of you.

Variation: If practicing Child’s pose with your knees together is painful, you can also separate your knees, letting your torso rest between your thighs when you bend.

7. Supported Relaxation

If a herniated disc is causing your lower back pain, this position can give you some relief by taking the pressure off of the disc. Layer a couple of pillows onto your bed and lie on your belly with your arms resting out in front of you. You want your head, knees and lower legs to be in contact with the mattress, and it’s fine to bend your elbows. Rest here for as long as you like. A herniated disc makes moving around difficult, so you may need some help maneuvering yourself into this relaxation, and you might need help getting up afterwards, but it’s worth it for the sweet, sweet pain relief.

8. Cat and Cow Pose

This is actually a pair of poses that you flow between. Cat pose stretches the spine and strengthens the abs, while cow pose works the low back muscles and opens your chest. Begin on hands and knees with your knees below your hips and hands below your shoulders. Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, pull in your abs, arching your back and ground your hands on the floor. Let your head curl in toward your chest and your bottom curl under as well. On the next inhale, tilt your head upward, looking toward the wall in front of you, lifting up your chest and curling your bottom toward the sky. Your back will naturally bend as your belly sinks toward the floor. Repeat the Cat-Cow sequence, breathing deeply, 10 to 20 times.

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Images via Thinkstock.

158 comments

Lisa M
Lisa M10 days ago

Noted.

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Lisa M
Lisa M10 days ago

Noted.

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John B
John B2 months ago

Thanks Becky for sharing the great info, links and videos.

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Dorre R
Dorre R2 months ago

Thanks - have saved for future reference!

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Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen3 months ago

Thank you

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Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen3 months ago

Thank you

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara3 months ago

Thanks, care for your back

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara3 months ago

Good moves

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara3 months ago

Have a good day

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Glennis W
Glennis W3 months ago

Very informative Thank yo for caring and sharing

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