Best Exercises for Back Pain - PT Effect

Best Exercises for Back Pain

The right exercises can help to both treat and prevent back pain
Read Time: 4 minutes
May 31, 2021

Back pain is extremely common. Up to 80% of adults in the United States will have experienced back pain at some point in their lifetimes. At any given moment, 31 million of those people are experiencing back pain. On top of that, 65 million adults in the US have reported back pain recently and 16 million experience back pain on a chronic basis.

Back pain is one of the most common reasons why people visit their doctors or even miss work. For some people, back pain is debilitating and daily activities difficult to perform.

Fortunately, surgery isn’t commonly needed to treat back pain. In fact, back pain can be treated or even prevented with stretches and exercises at home.

Not all exercises are beneficial for back pain. Some exercise can actually make it worse. But the right exercises can help both treat and prevent back pain. So which are the best exercises?


Young woman on a yoga mat doing crunches, with only her shoulders off the ground

While sit-ups can actually be bad for your back, crunches (especially partial crunches) can help to strengthen your back muscles.

How to do a partial crunch:

  • Lie on the floor with your feet flat on the ground and your knees bent.
  • Put your hands behind your head.
  • Lift your shoulders off the floor.
  • Remember to use your stomach muscles rather than pulling on your head with your hands.

Hamstring Stretch

Woman practicing a hamstring stretch

Stretching your hamstring muscles can also help to stretch out your back. You may need a towel or band to help you with this stretch.

How to do a hamstring stretch:

  • Lie down on your back and place one foot flat on the floor with your knee bent.
  • Lift your other leg straight into the air.
  • You can put the towel or band over the bottom of this foot to make it easier to pull your leg closer to you.
  • Switch legs and repeat.

There are other ways to stretch your hamstrings. Alternatively, some people stretch them while either standing or sitting. However, if you’re currently experiencing back pain, lying down to do the stretch may be the easiest way.


 Woman doing superman exercises by lifting both her arms and legs off the floor at the same time

Doing superman exercises can help to strengthen your back muscles, which can improve your posture and help to prevent back injuries.

How to do a superman:

  • Lie face down on the floor.
  • Lift both your arms and both your legs off the floor at the same time.
  • Your hands and feet should be about six inches off the floor.
  • Make sure to engage your core muscles by pulling in your belly button and trying to lift it off the floor.
  • Hold this position for two seconds, and then repeat.


Young woman in workout clothes on a yoga mat doing a bridge by lifting her hips into the air

Bridges can help strengthen the muscles in the gluteus maximus, which supports the back. Keeping your gluteus maximus strong can help to protect your back from a strain that could cause you pain.

How to do a bridge:

  • Lie with on your back on the floor.
  • Place your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent.
  • Keep your feet hip-width apart.
  • Lift your hips into the air while keeping your arms on the floor.
  • Your body should form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders, which remain on the floor.
  • Lower your hips to the floor again, then repeat.

Bird Dog

Group of people doing the bird dog yoga pose

Bird dog is a yoga pose that works out both the core and back muscles.

How to do a bird dog:

  • Start on the floor on your hands and knees.
  • Lift one leg straight behind you and the opposite arm straight in front of you.
  • Make sure to keep your back muscles taut. Don’t let them sag.
  • Lift your leg as high as you can without losing proper back position.
  • Hold the position as long as you can.
  • Switch to the other side.

Lateral Leg Lift

A lateral leg lift can help to strengthen your hip abductor muscles, which can help to reduce back strain by supporting your pelvis. Your hip abductor muscles also affect your balance and therefore your mobility, so it’s important to keep them strong.

How to do a lateral leg lift:

  • Lie on your side on the floor.
  • Keep your legs together, with the bottom leg slightly bent.
  • Lift the top leg into the air.
  • Engage your core and back muscles by pulling in your belly button.
  • Hold your leg at least eighteen inches off the floor for at least two seconds.
  • Lower your leg and repeat.
  • After you’ve finished, rollover to switch sides and repeat on the other leg.

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Mark Shulman

Dr. Mark Shulman

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), FAAOMPT, COMT, CSCS


Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists.

Mark Shulman

Dr. Allison McKay

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), PRPC


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