Exercises to reduce lower back pain

If you suffer from low back pain, you’re not alone. Up to 80 percent of U.S. adults experience low back pain at some point in life, and the condition becomes more common as you age. Fortunately, a variety of strengthening and stretching exercises can relieve lower back pain, improve your mobility, and enhance your quality of life.

What causes back pain?

Lower back pain has many causes:

A sedentary lifestyle that involves sitting for long periods of time—at a desk or in front of a screen—can also contribute to chronic back pain.

Stay active to relieve back pain

If back pain reduces your quality of life, regular physical activity over the long term may help ease your symptoms and improve how you feel. Exercise can boost your flexibility and reduce joint stiffness while improving your mood, sleep, and ability to manage stress. In addition, by enhancing blood circulation, it can also help protect your joints, spine, muscles, tendons, and ligaments from further damage.

Talk to your doctor, physical therapist, or healthcare provider before starting any exercise program, as some types of activities may not be appropriate for your specific condition and could worsen your back pain.

What types of exercise are best for back pain?

The best type of exercise for you is one you will actually do, so choose activities you enjoy. Be sure to warm up by stretching your muscles and back before you begin, and take 10 to 15 minutes to cool down after your exercise.


Walking is a low-impact type of exercise that is easy on your joints and good for low back pain. In addition to strengthening the muscles in your back, it can reduce bone loss.

If you’re not used to walking long distances—or walking at a brisk pace—start with a relaxed pace and a short distance. Even a leisurely 10-minute walk offers some health benefits. Gradually, you will be able to increase your distance and pace as you build stamina.

Find out why walking is a great way to exercise.


Bicycling can help strengthen your heart, lungs, and back and boost your overall endurance, while putting minimal stress on your spine.

Riding an outdoor bike on roads or trails is a great way to exercise, but you may want to stay away from rough terrain that causes discomfort. Always wear sunscreen and safety gear—including a helmet—along with reflective clothing that will help drivers and pedestrians see you clearly.

A recumbent bike that rides low to the ground and comes with a seat that reclines backward is an excellent option for those with back pain.

Stationary bikes and spinning classes provide a vigorous indoor workout, but be sure to ask your fitness instructor how to sit properly and maintain a healthy posture.

Swimming and water workouts

When you exercise in a pool, the water cushions your back and joints while providing resistance that creates an aerobic effect.

Walking laps, marching in place, and walking side-to-side targets the muscle groups in your spine, legs, and hips that contribute to back pain.

If you can tolerate swimming, back and breast strokes tend to be easy on your back.

Tai chi

Tai chi is a Chinese practice that has been around for more than 300 years. Many people find it to be an effective way to reduce low back pain, as it involves performing gentle, fluid movements with focused breathing and a calm mind. When you practice tai chi, you’re relaxed but also alert.

In addition to improving your balance and strengthening your muscles, tai chi can enhance your mood and reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.

Over time, you will gain the ability to perform the movements in a smooth sequence that resembles a graceful, slow-motion dance. Better yet, the practice requires no equipment—all you need is comfortable clothing and an open space.

Your local community center or fitness club may offer in-person tai chi classes for beginners. Online classes are another option.

Strengthening and stretching exercises

Strengthening and stretching exercises for your lower back can help stabilize your spine, improve your range of motion and flexibility, and manage lower back pain. It’s important to remember that no single lower back exercise is right for everyone, and you may find some to be more effective than others at relieving your pain.

Exercises to strengthen and support your lower back include glute bridges, planks, and crunches.

Stretching can also help relieve pain and tension in your lower back. Exercises include knee-to-chest stretches, kneeling lat stretches, and seated side-straddle stretches.

Together, strengthening and stretching exercises can help improve the strength, stability, and flexibility of your lower back.

When to seek medical care for back pain

Listen to your body when you exercise. While some discomfort is normal, pain may indicate that you need to adjust the intensity or duration of your workout or stop what you’re doing and find another activity. Depending on your condition, some activities can aggravate your lower back pain.

Looking for alternatives to exercise? Get tips for preventing back pain.

If you experience numbness in your legs or feet or a sensation of pins-and-needles, stop exercising immediately and seek medical care. Pain that radiates down one leg and changes in your bowel or bladder function are other potential signs of a more serious condition.

Finally, if your back pain lasts for more than a week or prevents you from doing everyday activities you enjoy, consider seeing your doctor or healthcare provider.

Additional sources

Mayo Clinic, Back exercises in 15 minutes a day

Hospital for Special Surgery, Best Types of Exercise for Back Pain