8 Safe and Effective Exercises for Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain can be highly debilitating. Your lower back provides support for the weight of your upper body, as well as the hip motion used when walking. When your lower back is in pain, it can make even the smallest movement feel like a monumental effort. According to John Peloza, MD, writing for Spine-Health, lower back pain can result from injury to the muscles, discs, ligaments, or joints in the lower back, including your hips. Pain in the lower back region can also be caused by the piriformis muscle, which can also cause pain in the buttock and the back of the leg, due to its proximity to the sciatic nerve.

The main causes of lower back pain, according to John Peloza, are muscle or ligament strain. According to Healthline, muscle strain occurs “when your muscle is overstretched or torn.” This can be caused over time by repetitive movements or can occur suddenly due to injury. Though John Peloza notes that muscle and ligament strains do not usually cause long-lasting pain, “the acute pain can be quite severe.” In the case of sacroiliac joint dysfunction, if the sacroiliac joint becomes irritated for any reason, it can also affect the structure of the piriformis muscle, which in turn affects the adjacent sciatic muscle causing further pain down the leg.

Luckily, there are some simple yet effective stretches that you can do every day to help relieve lower back pain and also prevent it from happening in the future. Kojo Hamilton, MD, writing for Spinal-Health notes that “stretching low back and lower body muscles can alleviate tension, reduce pain, and better support the spine.” In the case of sciatic pain, low impact exercise and stretching is typically more effective in treating the pain than bed rest, according to Physical Therapist Ron S. Miller, a contributor to Spinal-Health.

Doing these stretches on a regular basis should help to alleviate lower back pain and keep your back muscles and spine in good shape. However, keep in mind that you should consult your physician before beginning any exercise program, especially when dealing with any existing or ongoing pain.

1. Knees to Chest Stretch: This one is fairly self-explanatory, and also very easy to do. However, while this exercise is a simple one, it is also highly effective at preventing lower back pain. Begin by lying on your back with your knees raised and your feet flat on the floor. Raise one leg toward your chest until you can grasp it with your hands just below the knee.

 

According to Anne Asher, CPT, you should keep your muscles relaxed as much as possible while doing this, as “The knees-to-chest better reaches low back muscles when used passively.” The knees to chest stretch can be done one or two legs at a time, however, Asher recommends pulling one leg up at a time as raising both legs requires a greater amount of abdominal strength.

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2. Child’s Pose: This common yoga pose not only helps to alleviate back pain but also helps with sacroiliac instability, which can aid in the prevention of sciatica. According to Anne Asher, using a pillow between your thighs and lower legs during the pose and spending only a few moments at a time in child’s pose will relax tension around the sacroiliac area.

To perform the child’s pose, start from a kneeling position and keep your big toes together as you move your knees further apart. Bring your stomach to rest on your thighs and reach your arms forward, resting your forehead on the floor. According to Asher, this might feel difficult at first for those with hip or lower back tightness, but it will eventually relax the muscles and feel very soothing. Just go at your own pace and avoid overexertion.

3. Seated Piriformis Stretch: The piriformis muscle, as mentioned above, can become sore or tight, causing lower back pain and possible sciatica. This usually occurs due to sitting for long periods of time. However, stretching the piriformis muscle can aid in the prevention of lower back and leg pain. The seated piriformis stretch is a simple, low impact stretch that benefits the hidden muscles.

To do this stretch, seat yourself on the floor and cross your left leg over your right thigh. Keep your left foot next to your right thigh and pull your right foot in toward your buttocks. Brace your left leg with your right arm and rotate slowly to your left, being sure not to overextend. Hold the stretch for about 20 seconds then switch sides.

4. Cat-cow Stretch: This is yet another yoga pose that can help to alleviate or prevent lower back pain from developing. Because this stretch acts as both a flexion and an extension, it is especially useful for spinal and pelvic realignment, according to Elizabeth Quinn at Very Well Fit.

To perform the cat-cow stretch, start on your hands on the knees on the floor. Slowly begin to contract your abdominal muscles, as if trying to pull your belly button toward the ceiling. Allow your head to drop and your pelvis to curl under. Hold this pose for about ten seconds before returning to starting position then letting your stomach drop toward the floor, arching your back as you do so. Repeat about five times.

5. Kneeling Lunge Stretch: You may have noticed that a lot of these stretches utilize your legs, and this is for a good reason. Lower back pain can often be caused by pelvic pain, which can be attributed to, as mentioned before, piriformis syndrome or sciatica. Working to strengthen your hips can be greatly beneficial to aiding in lower back pain.

To perform a kneeling lunge stretch, start by kneeling on the floor, then move one of your legs forward so your foot is flat on the floor, in a typical lunge position. Then place both hands on your thigh and slowly lean your upper body forward. You’ll be able to feel a stretch in your other leg. According to Jonas J. Gopez, MD, writing for Spinal-Health, this stretch affects the hip flexor muscles and can promote better posture.

6. Lying Knee Twist: This stretch can not only help with lower back pain but according to Meghan Rabbitt at Prevention, it can also strengthen your glutes, which can become tight when you are experiencing lower back pain, thus exacerbating your condition.

To perform the lying knee twist, lie on your back with your knees raised, similar to the starting position for the knee-to-chest exercise. Extend your arms outward so you are in a ’T’ position, then slowly let your knees drop to one side, keeping your shoulders on the floor. Only go as far as your flexibility allows, making sure not to overextend. Hold the position for about 20 seconds, then repeat for the other side.

7. Supine Hamstring Stretch: Performing hamstring stretches, according to Jonas J. Gomez, MD, can help to lengthen the hamstring, thereby lowering tension on the lower back and aiding in the prevention of lower back pain forming as a result of muscle strain.

Start by lying down and raising your right knee toward your chest. Wrap a towel or other strap around the ball of your foot, and slowly straighten your leg toward the ceiling, extending through the heel. If you feel too much strain in your lower back, you can bend your left knee to ease the tension. You can also forego the towel and hold your leg behind the thigh, just above the knee.

8. Bridge Exercise: The bridge exercise may not look like much, as movement is very minimal, but it helps to strengthen both the abdominal and hamstring muscles, which, as mentioned above, can improve flexibility and stability in the lower back region.

To perform the bridge exercise, lie on your back with your arms at your side and your knees raised. Then, tighten your abdominal muscles and use your hips to raise your butt off of the floor. Try not to overextend, and only go as high as your flexibility will allow. Hold the pose for about ten seconds before slowly lowering your hips back to the floor.