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9 Safe And Beneficial Exercise Ideas For People With Lower Back Pain

Staying active is vital for keeping back pain at bay, so try these 9 safe forms of exercise that have been proven to work.

exercises for lower back pain

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 physical therapist.

Or from health experts on the news rolling out the latest buzz phrases such as 'the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle' or 'sitting is the new smoking'. 

The big take away from it all is that if you want to live a pain-free life then you need to get off your backside.

And do you know what? They're absolutely right. 

Because for people with persistent back pain, staying active is vital to be able to keep pain levels down and improve your quality of life. 

But it's one thing knowing you need to stay active, it's another thing entirely to know which kind of activities you should be doing.

As it's hard to know what exercise is good for lower back pain.

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. 

And it makes sense when you think about it.

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

As 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 instincts talking that have evolved over centuries to tell us that signs of pain = immediate danger. 

However, when your back pain is chronic and persistent this is simply not the case.

As there's no immediate danger with this type of pain, it just is, so you need to override your instincts and get yourself out there. 

And 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.

Things To Be Aware Of Before You Get Started

Before we begin with the list, I just want to make you aware of a couple of things.

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

However, I'm basing these recommendations on scientific studies that have shown them to be good and safe for people with chronic back pain.

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

So you should always consult with your doctor or physical therapist before trying out a new form of exercise, and stop immediately if you feel more pain.

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

Now this can be hard to do as exercise and sport can bring out the competitive side in all of us.

However, the name of the game here is to exercise to a moderate intensity, as this has been shown to be best for your back pain.

For instance, one study found that both a lack of activity and intense activity increased the risk of lower back pain.

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

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

And a gentle way to start is with a simple activity that we all do every day.

1. Walking

Everyone enjoys a nice walk don't they?

As 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 you can go for a walk pretty much anywhere and at anytime of the day.

So you can do it while going about your daily business without having to set aside time you don't have.

And you may do it already, especially if you have a dog that needs walking every morning.

You can even make it a social activity and use your walk to catch up with friends and family if you want to.

And the great news is that walking regularly has been shown to reduce pain levels in people with chronic lower back pain.

There are a few reasons why this happens:

  • Walking keeps your body and joints mobile and active increasing flexibility, which improves posture and relieves pressure on your back.
  • It also strengthens your legs, hips, and core muscles which support your spine, so your back gets better support.
  • Walking also improves your circulation, which helps your body to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and spinal discs to help them heal, repair, and stay healthy.
  • 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 when managing and living with persistent pain.

So don't hesitate to make walking a regular part of your life, as it's a great way to become more active without overstretching yourself.

And it could be the first step (pardon the pun) to a healthier and happier back.

Click here to read more about the benefits of walking for back pain.

2. Stretching

When your body is young and supple, stretching can feel like a big waste of time.

However, as you get older not stretching regularly can have a massive impact on your body, especially if you suffer from persistent back pain.

But why is this?​

Well, when you don't stretch your muscles they constrict and shorten.

Which leads to them weakening and not being able to give your back the support it needs.

And these weakened muscles can also cause muscle imbalances to form and lead you to adopt an unhealthy posture.

Both of which will put your back under much more pressure and strain.

And leave you in much more pain and discomfort as a result.

However, stretching your body out regularly can help to counteract all these woes, keeping you flexible, balanced, and strong.

Which is great for your back.

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.

And here's why.

  • By stretching your body you are lengthening and strengthening your muscles, meaning they can give your back the support it needs.
  • Keeping your body flexible relieves pressure on your back.
  • By improving your posture you remain well balanced and spread the force of gravity evenly across your body.
  • Stretching increases blood circulation which helps your muscles to heal and repair. 
  • Plus by stretching regularly you are greatly lowering the chances of picking up any muscle strains, pulls, or injuries.

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

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

As it's simple to do and gives you an instant and satisfying release of tension.

Click here to learn more about the benefits of regular stretching.

3. Swimming

I love swimming and spend about 30 minutes every day in the pool.

And this has totally transformed my life by getting rid of my back pain and helping me to stay fit and healthy despite my limitations.

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.

As it's been shown in studies to be a safe and effective way for people with chronic lower back pain to improve their fitness and control pain.

And it's especially good for anyone in pain because the buoyancy of the water takes the strain off your muscles and joints 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?

  • It strengthens your core muscles, giving your back more support outside of the pool.
  • While also keeping your body flexible, which relieves the pressure and allows you to be more active.
  • A flexible and well-balanced body will also improve your posture, which takes the strain off your back.
  • Improving your fitness and keeping your weight down will lessen the load on your back.
  • Swimming is a peaceful and relaxing activity that will leave you feeling energised and refreshed afterwards.

So swimming is great for you, both physically and mentally.

And there are even styles of swimming designed especially for people with back, neck, and shoulder pain, such as the Shaw Method.

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

Your back will thank you for it.

Click here to learn more about the benefits of swimming for people with back pain.

4. Cycling

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.

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

And it helps your back by:

  • Strengthening your leg and core muscles that help to support your spine, taking the pressure off your lower back.
  • Increasing circulation, which helps your damaged muscles get the oxygen and nutrients they need to heal and recover.
  • Keeping you fit and keeping your weight down, meaning your back has less of a load to carry.
  • Getting you out into the fresh air which makes you happier and gives you a positive attitude.
  • Encouraging the release of endorphins, which are the body's natural painkiller.

So why not make cycling a part of your life?

You may have the opportunity to cycle into work, which is a great way to get the exercise you need while also saving a packet on commuting costs.

There are also plenty of cycling clubs around for leisure cyclists that are great to join and meet new friends locally.

And if cycling outside doesn't float your boat, you can always 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.

So to avoid this you need to do the following:

  • Get the bike ergonomics right, such as keeping the saddle at the correct height and angle.
  • Maintain a healthy cycling technique and posture.
  • Keep your body 'bike ready' by strengthening your core and leg muscles.

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

And an activity that will leave you feeling fit, happy, and healthy to boot.

Click here to find out more about the benefits of cycling for back pain.

5. Yoga

Yoga is a fantastic activity for anyone with back pain.

As the stretching aligned with calm and controlled breathing can really relax both the body and the mind.

And this has been backed up by many scientific studies which have found that yoga can:

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?

  • It increases your flexibility, which improves your posture and relieves pressure and tension within the body. 
  • While strengthening your legs and core muscles which help to support your spine, meaning your back will be better supported.
  • It calms and relaxes you, making you happier and giving you a positive outlook.
  • While also helping you to sleep deeper and easier, which is a time when your body to heals and repairs itself.

So don't be put off from trying yoga.

Because the many health benefits it brings far outweighs any reservations you may have about it being difficult or not your kind of thing.

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

As there are plenty of online yoga classes and YouTube videos that allow you to practice yoga in the comfort of your own home.

However, I'd always recommend going to a class to make sure you are doing the exercises right and lowering the risk of injuring yourself.

So give yoga a try for a few weeks and see how your back feels afterwards.

Click here to find out more about the benefits of yoga for back pain.

6. Pilates

Pilates is similar to yoga in some ways and is another great way of strengthening your core muscles and improving your flexibility.

As it's a series of movements that are combine the stretches of yoga with body weight and aerobic exercises.

And it's great for people with lower back pain for the following reasons:

  • It strengthens your deep-lying core muscles, providing more support for your spine.
  • While also improving your balance, which spreads pressure evenly across your body throughout the day.
  • It keeps you flexible, which helps to reduce the load on your lower back.
  • 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 did pilates alongside their injury rehabilitation program.

As not only did it speed up their rehabilitation, it also led to less pain, improved functioning, gave them more energy, and lessened their reliance on pain medication.

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

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.

Click here to find out more about the benefits of pilates for back pain.

7. Core Strengthening Exercises

We've covered activities that can strengthen your core already in the form of yoga, pilates, and swimming.

However, it's an activity that can stand alone and is really important for your back.

Now, if you've ever had physiotherapy for your back pain, then I'm sure you'll have tried some 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 leads to less spinal support and a body that becomes unbalanced.

And any imbalances within your muscles cause compensating to go on within your body, will only increase the pressure 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.

And this helps with your movement, balance and posture.

As well as protecting your back during everyday activities, especially those that require powerful movements such as gardening, lifting, and exercising.

So having a strong core is vital to keep back pain at bay.

And these benefits were shown in one study of people with chronic lower back pain.

Where the group that did core exercises were found to have less back pain and better functioning at the end of the study, and also two years later at a follow up as well.

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

However, you do need to make sure you are doing the exercises correctly to stay safe.

So I'd recommend going to a professional such as a physiotherapist 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.

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

Click here to find out more about the benefits of core-strengthening for back pain.

8. Water Aerobics

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

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

Because like I mentioned previously with swimming, exercising in the water is great for your back.

And this has been shown in a review of studies into therapeutic aquatic exercise that found they were helpful for people with chronic lower back pain.

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 great 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.

Because here's what's in it for your back.

  • The water takes away the force of gravity, supporting your body weight and minimising any strain on your spine as you exercise. 
  • It also helps your joints to move through a greater range of motion than they'd be capable of outside of the pool, giving you a better workout and keeping you more active.
  • You also get a decent core workout in the pool, as the mild resistance provided by the water helps to strengthen and condition your muscles as you exercise.
  • The water pressure helps to strengthen your heart and lungs, improving your circulation which allows your body to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your damaged muscles and discs to help them heal and repair.

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.

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

And can be a great place to meet new friends.

Or alternatively you could try aquatic therapy.

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

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

Which 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, then these two activities can be great alternatives to help you to stay active.

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

Click here to find out more about the benefits of water aerobics for back pain.

9. Tai Chi

The 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.

And it's not just helpful for back pain.

It's also been found to be great for people with Parkinson's diseasefibromyalgiadiabetes and heart problems.

​Not bad eh?

So how does it help your back pain?

  • Tai chi focuses on keeping the correct posture as you move through the exercises, creating balance in your body that prevents muscle imbalances from developing.
  • Also the movements in tai chi lengthen and strengthen the muscles throughout your whole body, which increases your flexibility, improves your posture, and reduces any aches and strains.
  • All of which relieves pressure on your back.
  • There is also a focus on breathing that relaxes both your body and mind, helping to release any muscle tension you are holding.
  • 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 look out for a local tai chi class in your area and give it a try.

As 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.

Click here to find out more about the benefits of tai chi for back pain.

Rounding Up

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

As being active 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 that a mixture of walking, swimming, pilates, and stretching 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

I'm a psychology graduate and a veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help people learn how to fight back against persistent back pain just like I have.

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