Exercise For Lower Back Pain

Exercise will along with good posture, proper support when sitting and correct lifting reduce the stress on your back. To maintain a healthy back these things should be part of our everyday life.


If you are in pain or do not regularly exercise you should visit a health professional before starting any exercise regime. An exercise for a herniated disc (commonly called a "slipped disc") would be different from an exercise for a degenerative lumbar spine (eg, osteoarthritis) and doing the wrong exercise could make the problem worse. It is, therefore, important to get a diagnosis of the cause of your back pain before exercise. It is also important for the health professional to first rule out any serious underlying causes of your pain such as fracture, tumour or infection which might make exercise potentially dangerous.


At Princes Avenue Osteopathic clinic your Osteopath will determine the cause of your pain and tailor an exercise program to that problem.


Acute Back Pain


If your low back injury has just happened and you are in a lot of pain it is better to wait until you have had your back checked or the majority of the pain has subsided before you start exercising. Until then carry on with your day to day activities as best you can but avoid lifting and stressing your back. Start by just walking round the house.

stretchingStart with gentle stretching exercises. Blood flow to the muscles will be increased which will speed healing, mobility will be improved, the pain should reduce and tight muscles will be helped. Warming the muscles first before the exercise can help, a warm shower for example.

Start with low impact exercise such as walking. Swimming is also good. Avoid high impact sport until you have completely recovered from your back injury and reintroduce the activity gradually.


the plank exerciseYou can begin strengthening your back once your back injury is sufficiently recovered. To reduce the risk of recurring back pain and re-injury the muscles that support the spine need to be strong. These are the core muscles. They are your back, abdominal and buttock muscles.


Chronic Pain


Exercise is usually safe if you have chronic back pain but always check with a health professional first to ensure the exercise is appropriate for you.


Core muscles may have become weak due to avoiding physical activity maybe from fear of worsening the pain or a back condition. Poor posture can result from weak core muscles and this can increase the risk of further back injury.


Strengthening the core muscles


Always warm up before doing back exercises. This could be five minutes of marching on the spot, using an exercise bike, walking, anything that increases your heart rate as this increases the blood flow to the muscles.


When doing any of the followingexercises it is important to protect your back by bracing your abdomen. To do this, simply tighten your stomach muscles mildly. Breathe normally. A low degree of tension in the abdominal muscles will naturally tighten the low back muscles which will stabilise and protect the lower back.


These exercises are just some of the many exercises that help to strengthen the core muscles and so protect the back. These and many more where developed by Joseph Pilates in order to treat dancer’s injuries. This means that Pilates will be a safe form of exercise if you have a back injury as the Pilates teacher will know which exercises can be beneficial to you and which you should avoid.


If you do not want to do pilates find an exercise activity that you enjoy. Swimming, cycling, martial arts and dance are all particularly good.


Other factors which are contributing to the back pain will also have to be corrected for the exercise program to be successful. An Osteopath will be able to treat some of these factors, particularly chronic poor posture which places stress on the discs, muscles and ligaments of the back. Again particular exercises will gradually help improve poor posture.




Stretching is also very important. If a muscle has become shortened it can pull the spine out of alignment and contribute to back pain. To help relieve the pain the muscle can be lengthened withstretching exercises.This will also help the general mobility of the joints in the spine.

Knowing what is causing the low back pain will determine which exercise is appropriate.


Piriformis Syndrome


The piriformis is a muscle that passes very close to the sciatic nerve. If the piriformis muscle is tense or inflamed it can irritate the sciatic nerve. This can lead to sciatic like leg pain, tingling or numbness from the lower back and sometimes down the back of the leg to the foot.Stretching the piriformis muscle usually helps relieve the pain. If the muscle is stretched a few times a day, especially when combined with hamstring stretches, it can prevent tightening of the lower back and relieve tension down the leg.The exerciseto stretch the piriformis muscle can be found on our stretching exercises page.


Dynamic Lumbar Stabilisation


For back pain (and sciatica) caused by disc degeneration or arthritis of the lower back find the position your back is most comfortable in, (spine slightly bent forwards or back) and strengthen the back to hold that posture during activity. This is called dynamic lumbar stabilisation. It will reduce excessive movement between the joints of the spine and teach the muscles to react quicker (which often prevents alot of injuries). With the spine stabilised pain will be reduced because the nerve irritation is reduced and the spine is protected which helps prevent further damage. Exercises to stabilise the lower back are on our Lumbar Stabilisation page.