When it feels as though someone is holding a blowtorch to your lower back or stomping on your spine, chances are you'd rather crawl into bed and hibernate than hit the gym.
But once you've relieved the worst of your low back pain with medication, ice, or another treatment your doctor recommends, getting into a regular workout schedule is actually one of the best ways to speed your recovery. It can also help prevent future episodes of low back pain.
So what exercises can help your back pain? Strengthening and stretching exercises help keep the muscles, joints, ligaments, and discs that support your back limber and healthy.
In fact, one study found that men and women with chronic low back pain who worked out with weights four days a week had 28% less pain and 36% less disability than people who didn't exercise as often.
Your doctor may recommend that you do back exercises once or twice a day for 10 to 30 minutes at a time while you're recovering. Try to work up to at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day.
Exercises for Low Back Pain
According to research, strength training and stretching may be the most effective low back exercises.
Strength training exercises can help you build stronger muscles, especially the core muscles of the abs, lower back, pelvis and hips, which support your back. Isometric exercises, in which you contract the muscle and hold it (for example, by pressing against a wall) may be easier than lifting weights for some people with lower back pain. Adding an exercise ball to your routine can help stabilize your core while you exercise. A specific type of exercise that strengthens and helps you gain more control over your trunk muscles (called motor control exercises) appears to be especially good for combating low back pain and disability.
Stretching keeps your muscles more flexible, so you're less likely to injure them. It also can relieve tight spots in your back and elsewhere in your body, and improve your range of motion. Remember to move slowly into and out of each stretch while breathing deeply. Try to hold each stretch for at least five seconds. Never stretch past your limits. If it hurts, stop.
Yoga, with its series of poses that incorporate stretching and strengthening, can be good exercise for low back pain. According to studies, taking yoga classes can improve low back pain and function better than conventional treatment alone. And if you've been feeling down about your achy back, yoga might even improve your mood.
Aerobic exercises, such as walking, biking, or dancing, get your heart pumping, increase your cardiovascular fitness, and keep your body in overall better health. Sometimes non-impact aerobic exercises like swimming are easier and more comfortable for people with low back pain.