5 Best Exercises to Ease Your Lower Back Pain

If you have lower back pain, you aren't alone. As many as eight out of 10 people experience some type of back pain during their lives. In fact, more than half of all older adults struggle with back problems.

While back pain can sometimes be traced to a specific event or injury, other times it can be traced to habits that you can change or situations you can control. 

For example, poor posture due to aging and lack of mobility often plays a major role in back-related aches and pains, says physical therapist Nebojsa (Neb) Mrkajic, MSPT.

Many times, chronic back pain develops with poor posture, with pain that lasts for three months or more.

“This chronic pain only gets worse with the progression of arthritis and aging, as well as with deterioration of muscle and core strength,” Mr. Mrkajic says.

"Knowing how to maintain good posture when sitting – as well as moving – is key,” Mr. Mrkajic says.

Sleeping and Your Back

Another factor that many people don't consider that might be contributing to their back problems is their bed, Mr. Mrkajic says. Sleep in a bed with a firm mattress and a pillow that offers good support. And don't get in the habit of sleeping in a recliner chair.

“A lot of people like to sleep in recliners,” he says. “That’s not always the best solution, even though it’s initially comfortable. A recliner is not a substitute for the bed.”

Exercises to Strengthen Your Back

Exercise and physical activity can help keep your back healthy, Mrkajic recommends activities like riding a stationary bike, walking and water therapy if you have access to a pool.

Here are five exercises to try at home:

Back Extension

  • Lie face down on a bed or the floor and with palms facing downward, slowly raise your head while arching your back.
  • Push yourself up using your elbows. Be sure your hips remain square to the floor during the exercise.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Bent Knee Raise 

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent.
  • Raise each knee, one at a time, to your chest and hold for five seconds before lowering your foot to the floor.
  • Be sure to tighten your abs during the exercise.
  • Repeat 10 times on each side.

Curl Ups

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and your arms behind your head for support.
  • Lift your shoulders off the ground.
  • Don't pull your neck or try to lift too high.

Eccentric leg raise 

  • Keep your spine flat against the floor throughout the exercise to avoid arching your back.
  • As you tighten your abdominal muscles, gently pull your right knee to your chest. Make sure your left leg stays on the floor.
  • Next, straighten your leg before allowing it to gently fall back to the floor.
  • Repeat 10 times for each leg.

Cat and camel

  • Get on your hands and knees, either on a bed or the floor.
  • With your back in a neutral "tabletop" position, round your back up while lowering your head. Your form should resemble a cat arching its back.
  • Next, relax your back to form a “valley” between the “two humps of a camel.”
  • If your wrists hurt, lower onto your elbows. If you're exercising on floor, kneel on a mat or towel.
  • Repeat 10 times.

If you continue to experience back pain, your doctor can refer you to a physical therapist for exercises tailored specifically to your needs.

Nebojsa (Neb) Mrkajic, MSPT, is a physical therapist at UH Bedford Medical Center Rehabilitation Services. You can request an appointment with Mrkajic or any other University Hospitals health care provider online.

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