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9 Exercises That Help Your Chronic Lower Back Pain

exercise for chronic back pain

Do you find yourself wondering what kinds of exercise you should be doing for your back pain? Well wonder no more... 

​Now I'm sure you're already aware that you need to stay active if you're going to keep back pain at bay. 

I mean we hear that message all the time right? ​

On every visit to your doctor or physiotherapist. 

On every back pain website you visit. 

From health experts on the news ​rolling out the latest buzzwords such as 'dangers of a sedentary lifestyle' or 'sitting is the new smoking'. 

The big take away from them all is that if we want to be pain-free we need to get off our backsides! ​

And do you know what?

They're absolutely​ right. 

Because for people like us with chronic lower back pain​ staying active is vital to be able to manage our pain and improve our overall quality of life. 

But it's one thin​g knowing you need to stay active, it's another thing entirely to know what kind of activity you need to be doing.

And this is where lots of people fall down.

Because they put off taking part in activities as they are scared that they'll cause themselves even more damage. 

It makes sense when you think about it.

Because when we're in pain ​it can seem crazy to even think about exercising. 

Every instinct is telling you to rest up and recover instead.

Have a hot bath, put your feet up, let it pass.

These are our survival insticts talking that have evolved within our genes over centuries to tell us that signs of pain = immediate danger. 

However when your back pain is chronic this is simply not the case.​

There's no immediate danger with this type of pain so you need to override these instincts and ​get yourself out there. 

And today I'm going help you do this by introducing you to 9 activities that, when done correctly, have been shown to help reduce back pain in a safe manner.

Before You Get Started

However before we begin I just need to make you aware of a couple of things.

Firstly I need to state the obvious, which is I'm not a doctor or a physiotherapist.​

Now much of the advice and information I give here has been backed up in scientific studies and as a consequence has been recommended as being safe for people with chronic lower back pain.​

However everyone's pain is going to be different and what works for one person may not work for another.

So always consult with your doctor or physical therapist before beginning​ a new exercise program and stop if you start to feel pain.

​And secondly it's important that you don't overdo things.

The name of the game here is to exercise to a moderate​ intensity as this has been shown to be best for our back pain.

For instance, in a 2011 study it was found that both lack of activity and intense activity increased the risk of lower back pain (81).

Moderate activity on the other hand was found to reduce the risk of lower back pain (81).

It's all about finding that sweet spot and not overdoing things.​

So keep those two things in mind as you read through this article.

And a nice place to start with this list of safe and helpful activities for your back is with an easy and gentle activity that we all do​ every day.

1. Walking

walking for back pain

Everyone enjoys a good walk don't they?

Not only is it a nice and gentle exercise, it also allows you to get outside and get ​some fresh air into your lungs.

And it's not a grind like other forms of ​exercise can be.

I mean you can go for a walk pretty much anywhere ​and at anytime of day right?

It can be done while you're going about your daily business so you don't need to allocate time you don't have to do it.​

You probably do it already if you have a dog that needs walking every morning.​

And you can make it a social thing too and use your walk to catch up with friends and family if you want to.

You can even stop off at the pub halfway through for a pint or two.

And there's not many forms of exercise you can say that about!​

​The great news for us is that walking regularly has been shown to reduce pain in people with chronic lower back pain (31) (83).

In fact it helps us in many ways.

It keeps your body mobile and active while also strengthening the legs, hips and core muscles ​that support your spine.

Which is great for improving your posture and spinal alignment.

Walking also improves your circulation which means your muscles and spinal discs can take on more of the nutrients and oxygen they need to repair and heal.

It'll also keep ​your weight down and improve your overall fitness levels which will take the strain off your back.

And getting out into the fresh​ air improves your mood and encourages a positive attitude which is vital in managing chronic pain.

And life in general!​

So don't hesitate to make walking a regular part of your life if you want to get more active without overstretching yourself.​

>> Read more: Discover The Great Health Benefits Of Walking For ​Your Back

2. Stretching

stretching for back pain

Now as guys I know from experience that some of us grow up thinking that stretching is a waste of time.

You just want to get right into your sport ​without the chore of having to go through a five minute stretch first right?

And if your muscles feel fine why do you need to do it?​

These are questions that come up mainly from youngsters and people without pain.​

And people like this can get away without stretching to a certain extent while their bodies are young and naturally supple.

But as you get older not stretching regularly can have a big impact on your body.

And even more so if you suffer from chronic lower back pain.​

But why is this?​

Well if you don't stretch your muscles it will cause them to constrict and shorten.

And this leads to weaker muscles​ and muscle imbalances which cause you to adopt a poor posture.

Which only means ​one thing...

PAIN.

So to guard against this you need to make sure you stretch regularly to keep your body flexible and healthy.

And it shouldn't be seen as such a chore either.

It's simple to do, and for me personally I love that instant and satisfying release of tension you get from having a good stretch.​

​And it can really help to ease your back pain too.

For example, in one study it was shown that when a stretching program was added to a back pain rehabilitation program​ the patients recovered and progressed much faster (82).

And here's why.​

By stretching your body you are lengthening and strengthening your muscles which brings you so many benefits.

It increases your flexibility, improves your posture, relieves pressure by taking the strain off your lower back​, and increases blood circulation which helps your muscles to heal and repair.

Plus by stretching regularly during the day you are greatly lowering the​ chance of picking up any muscle strains or injuries as you work.

So make regular stretching a daily habit as it really can be a massive help in reducing your back pain.

>> Read more: When In Pain Make Sure You Are Stretching Your Body Not Your Patience.

3. Swimming

swimming for back pain

​I love swimming.

It has transformed how I live my life by greatly redu​cing my levels of pain and helping me to stay fit and healthy despite my back problem.

But as an exercise option for back pain it's not the first thing most people think of trying.

Maybe it's because swimming may seem like something that you only do as a kid.

Or when you're on holiday.

But getting into swimming regularly can be really helpful for your back.

It has been shown in studies to be a safe way for people with chronic lower back pain to improve their fitness and control pain (31).​

This is because the buoyancy of the water takes the strain off your joints and muscles as you swim.

Which makes swimming a low-impact activity where you can get a whole body workout without the strain of doing one outside of the pool.

So what benefits for your back can you expect to gain from swimming?

​Well firstly it will strengthen your core muscles and keep your body flexible.

This will give you added support for your lower back and improve your posture.

It will also improve your fitness levels and keep your weight down, which will make staying active easier.

And as swimming is a peaceful​ and relaxing experience it will leaves you feeling energised and refreshed afterwards.

So it's great for you both physically and mentally.

And there are even styles of swimming to help people swim pain-free, such as the Shaw Method which was developed especially for people with back, neck and shoulder pain.

​So if you've ever fancied getting into swimming I'd highly recommend giving it a try.

Your back will thank you for it.​

>> Read more: Swimming For Back Pain Relief: Take The Plunge With The Shaw Method

4. Cycling

cycling to reduce your back pain

​Cycling is one of those things we all loved doing as a kid right?

And it didn't seem like exercise​ then did it?

It was just fun and freedom!​

Well cycling can still be fun as an adult.

And it has also been shown to be a great way for people to reduce their back pain and improve their fitness levels (31).​

This is because it's a low-impact exercise that gives you a good aerobic exercise without putting a strain on your joints.

This will help you to stay fit and increases circulation​, which helps your muscles to get the oxygen and nutrients they need to heal and repair.

​It also strengthens your leg muscles that help to support your spine, taking the pressure off your lower back.

And by getting outside and into the fresh air​ you are improving your mood and creating a positive attitude.

Which all helps you to manage your chronic pain.​

So why not make cycling a part of your daily life?​

If you have an opportunity to cycle into work it can be a great way to get the exercise you need while also saving a packet on commuting costs.

Also there are plenty of cycling clubs around now for leisure cyclists​, so it can be a great hobby to take up and make new friends locally.

And if cycling outside doesn't float your boat you can use the indoor exercise bikes at your local gym​ to get your workout.

So you have plenty of options if you fancy getting into cycling.

But just a word of warning that the benefits of cycling will only come if you do it correctly.

Because back pain has been found to be the 5th biggest injury for leisure cyclists (83).​

So to avoid this you need to do the following:

  • Getting the bike ergonomics right, such as keeping the saddle at the correct height and angle.
  • Maintaining a good cycling technique and posture.
  • Keeping your body 'bike ready' by strengthening your core and leg muscles.

For more information on how to do that click the link below.

But if you can stay on top of that cycling is a great way to keep your back pain at bay.

And leave you feeling fit, happy and healthy​ to boot.

>> Read more: Embrace Your Inner Child And Say 'On Your Bike' To Back Pain

5. Yoga

yoga for back pain

Now I know that lots of men turn their noses up at the thought of doing yoga.

Whether that's because it's thought of as being a feminine activity and men feel embarassed to be seen trying it.

Or maybe the spiritual and meditation part of it just feels a bit too 'out there'.

​There's no denying that there's a stigma attached to yoga that means most yoga classes are predominantly full of women.

However if you have your reservations you need to realise that there's more to yoga ​than hippies, incense candles and vegan chicks.

​Because it can bring you multiple health benefits and it's also great for your back pain.

For example, in studies of people with chronic lower back pain yoga has been shown to: 

  • Reduce their pain levels (41).
  • Make them more mobile and active (40).
  • Give them better back functioning (45).
  • Make them less dependent on pain medication (44).
  • Help them to accept their pain in a healthier manner (42).
  • Increase the amount of positive emotions they experienced (43).

So it's a great form of exercise to help you manage your pain and improve your overall quality of life.

But how does yoga achieve all that?

Well firstly it strengthens the legs and core muscles that help to support your spine.

This will improve your posture and lessen the load and strain on your lower back.

Yoga also increases your flexibility ​and helps to reduce any tension you are holding in your muscles.

It's also a calm and relaxing​ activity which helps to improve your mood, boosts your immune system and gives you a positive outlook.

It can even help you to sleep better afterwards too.

And all of this is great news for your back.

So don't be put off from trying yoga.

​Because the many health benefits it brings far outweighs any reservations you may have.

​And if going to a yoga class is really not appealing to you, then you do have other options.

There are plenty of online yoga classes nowadays where you can do yoga in the comfort of your own home.

Some of these are even designed exclusively for men and focus more on the exercise than the spiritual side.​

So give it a go for a few weeks and see how your back feels afterwards.​

I did just that and I love doing yoga now, and I'm sure you will too.​

>> Read more: Strike A Pose With Yoga For Back Pain Relief

6. Pilates

Pilates for back pain

Pilates tends to provoke a similar reaction as yoga amongst men.

I mean it's just a nice, gentle activity for the ladies right?

Wrong!​

If you think that then you're in a for a big shock, because pilates is a bloody good workout!​

And when you consider it was invented by a German prisoner of war in his cell during WW1, it couldn't have come from more 'manly' origins.

​So what exactly is Pilates?

It's a series of movements and exercises that are like a combination of yoga and aerobics.

And these movements combine to build solid core strength along with increasing your flexibility to boot.

Both of which are great for people with lower back pain.

By strengthening your deep-lying core​ muscles you can provide more support for your spine and improve your balance.

And improving your flexibility helps to reduce the load on your lower back throughout the day too.

Pilates will also train your body to maintain a good posture, which will help to relieve any tension and pressure in your muscles.​

The power of these benefits have been shown in a study of people with chronic lower back pain who had ​a pilates program added to their injury rehabilitation program (88).

Not only did it speed up their rehabilitation, it also led to reduced pain, improved functioning, more energy and less reliance on pain medication.

​So if you want a good, strengthening exercise for your back that will give you a good workout you should give pilates a try.

And forget the feminine stereotype, as even top boxers such as Amir Khan are using it now as part of their training regimes before big fights.​

I'm a fairly new convert to pilates myself and I love it so far.

Just make sure you find a class with ​a good instructor as it's important that you carry out the exercises correctly to avoid damaging your back any further.

>> Read more: Pilates For Core Strengthening: Beat Back Pain On The Mat

7. Core-Strengthening

Core strengthening for back pain

​We've covered core-strengthening a bit in previous activities such as yoga, pilates and swimming.

But it is an activity that can stand alone too.

Now if you've ever had physiotherapy for your back pain, then I'm sure you'll have been introduced to core-strengthening exercises.

And for good reason.

Because when it comes to reducing back pain, core stability can be a big help for us.

This is because a weak core can lead to an unbalanced body.

And any muscle imbalances and compensating that goes on within your body will only increase the load and strain on your back.​

​But by strengthening your core muscles you are providing your spine with the support and stability it needs to keep you upright and balanced instead.

​This helps with your movement, balance and posture.

And this support will also protect you during everyday activities.​

Especially those powerful movements you have to do on site such ​as digging, swinging and lifting.

So having a strong core is vital for us tradespeople.

And not only will it help us to work better.

It'll help to keep us safe too and make it less likely that we'll pick up muscle sprains and injuries on the job.

The benefits of core-strengthening exercises were shown in one study of people with chronic lower back pain (89).​

The group given core exercises to do were found to have less pain and better functioning not just at the end of the study, but two years later as well!​

So if you have chronic lower back pain and work on site it's a great idea to start working on your core strength.

However you need to make sure you are doing the exercises correctly.

So to get started I'd recommend going to a professional such as a physiotherapist or a physical therapist who will guide you through what you should be doing.

And once you know how to do the exercises correctly there ​is nothing stopping you from continuing on your own in the comfort of your own home.

I personally do a set of core-strengthening exercises every day and I couldn't live without them now.

It's all about giving your back every advantage you can to try and limit any pain.

>> Read more: Are You Hard Core Or Soft Core? Discover The Importance Of Core Strength For Reducing Back Pain

8. Water Aerobics and Aquatic Therapy

aqua aerobics for back pain

Now that we are coming to the final couple of activities, I wanted to introduce some gentler ones for those whose back pain restricts them from doing some of the more intense ones.

And a great place to start with this is in the pool.

Like I mentioned with swimming, exercising in the water is great for your back.

As shown in a review of studies into therapeutic aquatic exercise that found they were helpful for people with chronic lower back pain (91).​

This is because the buoyancy of the water supports you and puts less ​strain on your muscles and joints by taking away the force of gravity.

​Which makes the pool a good place for exercise and rehabilitation alike.

So if you find you are at an age or pain level where land-based exercising has become difficult, consider giving water aerobics and aquatic therapy a go.

​Here's what's in it for your back.

As I've already said​, the water takes away the force of gravity.

And this works to support your body weight and minimise any strain on your spine as you exercise.

This also helps ​your joints to move through a greater range of motion than they'd be capable of outside of the pool.

And this will give you a better workout and help you to become more mobile.​

You can also get a decent core workout in the pool.

This is because the mild resistance provided by the water helps to strengthen and condition your muscles as you exercise.

And finally the water pressure helps to strengthen your heart and lungs, improving your circulation.

Which allows your body to transport the oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and discs that help them to repair and heal.

​So you can see that exercising in water has many benefits, and you have two options if this sounds good to you.

Firstly you could join a water aerobics class.

These are commonplace in most local pools nowadays and can be a really fun activity to take part in.

They are basically like doing an aerobics class in the water and are high energy and accompanied ​by loud music.

As I said they are great fun and can be a great place to meet new friends.

Secondly you could try aquatic therapy.

Unlike the class format of water aerobics, aquatic therapy is usually done on a one-to-one basis with a qualified therapist.

It targets your core muscles and consists of exercises that aim to build strength, endurance, flexibility, balance and range of motion.​

This makes it great for people rehabilitating after injuries.

But it can also be a great option if you want to strengthen your core but find normal core exercises too painful.​

​So if you're finding land-based exercising difficult these two can be great alternatives to help you to stay active.

And exercising in the pool is fun too so it's a win-win!​

>> Read more: Water Aerobics And Aquatic Therapy: Buoyancy Is Your Ally When Exercise Is Too Painful

9. Tai Chi

Tai Chi for back pain

This final activity in this list is a bit more out of left field.

But don't rule it out too quickly because tai chi can be a great way of reducing your back pain.

This is another gentle, low-impact activity so it's great no matter what age or fitness level you are at.

​And it's unique for a martial art in that it soothes pain rather than trying to inflict it!

​This has been shown in studies, with one finding that a group of people with lower back pain had less pain and functional disability after 10-weeks of tai chi classes (92).

And it's not just helpful for back pain.

It's also been found to be great for people with Parkinson's disease (93)​, fibromyalgia (95), diabetes (96) and heart problems (94).

​Not bad eh?

So how does it help your back pain?

Tai chi focuses on keeping the correct posture ​and balance as you move through the exercises.

This creates balance in your body which lessens the load on your lower back and stops any muscle​ imbalances from developing.

Also the movements in tai chi lengthen and strengthen the muscles throughout your whole body.

This increases your flexibility, improves your posture, and reduces any aches and strains.

There is also a focus on breathing that works to relax both your body and mind.

Which helps to release any muscle tension you are holding and improves your overall mood and sense of well-being,

And finally the increased circulation that comes from the movements ​helps your body to get the oxygen and nutrients it needs to heal and repair.

So you'll feel​ less stiffness and soreness in your muscles.

And hopefully less back pain!

So look out for a local tai chi class in your area and give it a try.

These classes are fun and social experiences and can be a great way of meeting new friends.

They are also often done outside in parks, so you get the added benefit of getting out into the fresh air too.

And let's face it, we all want to be a black belt in a martial art, so why not become one in tai chi! ​

After all, anything that can make you more mobile, reduce pain, improve your balance and relax your body and mind can't be bad.​

>> Read more: Learn Tai Chi: The Martial Art That Soothes Your Back Pain

Rounding Up

Hopefully after reading through this list of safe and helpful activities for your back you now have more of an idea of what you can do to stay active.

This really is key to managing back pain well and continuing to live the life you want to live.

There are a wide variety of exercises here so there should be something that suits everyone.

For me personally I find a mixture of walking, swimming, pilates, stretching and yoga keeps me on the right path.

But everyone is different so it's all about finding out what works for you.

Just remember not to overdo things and keep it to a moderate intensity and you'll be fine.

Because once you make staying active a staple part of your lifestyle you'll really start to notice the difference and never want to turn back.

Share here!

Daniel

A 30-something painter and decorator, psychology graduate, and veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. Looking to explore the physical, psychological and emotional effects of living with chronic low back pain.

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