Relieve your lower back pain with these simple exercises

Apr 14, 2020 | Exercise Mechanics

Most people will experience some kind of lower back pain, maybe even multiple times in their life. It could be caused by bad posture or lifting something the wrong way, or the result of a medical condition like sciatica or a slipped disc.

Back pain has tormented people throughout history, too. David Allen and Gordon Waddell charted the history of low back pain in a 1989 article. They explain that back pain was written about as early as 1500BC. (The papyrus scroll showing this ends mid-sentence because the scribe died as he copied from an older text).

In this post, we’ll focus on lower back pain. We’re sharing four of our favourite exercises to help relieve low back pain and strengthen the lumbar spine to help prevent future injuries.


What causes low back pain?

In the UK, it’s estimated as many as eight in 10 people will be affected by some kind of back pain in their lifetime. Most of it falls under two categories. There’s ‘non-specific’ pain with no obvious cause or ‘mechanical’ pain originating from joints, bones, or soft tissue.

While you might be able to pinpoint a posture or activity when the pain originated, it often happens with no apparent cause. Causes may include a sprain or muscle strain.

Pain may also be the result of too much or too little joint movement which leads to increased pressure or tension in another part of the body.

Here are some of the things you might experience with non-specific or mechanical back pain:

  • The pain changes for better or worse depending on your position

  • It might feel worse when moving (but keep reading to find out why it’s not a good idea to stop moving)

  • It can develop suddenly or build up gradually

  • It may be associated with feeling stressed or tired

  • The pain will gradually go away over a few weeks


Why movement helps lower back pain

Your first instinct might be to rest. But movement is one of our biggest tips for anyone suffering back pain. Why?

Movement helps to decrease inflammation, which is what usually makes part of your back feel tight or restricted. So, when we see clients with back pain we usually advise movement in the early stages of pain rather than stretches. Keep reading for some exercises to help relieve lower back pain.

Movement also helps decrease muscle tone. Muscles work in pairs or groups and switch on and off (activate or deactivate). When joints aren’t working well, some muscles will be over-active and tight. The opposing muscle will be under-active and weaken. Moving helps keep your muscles working as normal.

Find out more about the connection between movement and pain relief in this post. 


Exercises to help relieve lower back pain

These exercises are designed to get the lower back moving, as well as all of the areas that work in close proximity.

These exercises are designed to decrease any inflammation and can help in distributing the tensions and pressures acting upon the body.

Knee hugs

Knee hugs are a great exercise for the lower back because they encourage good lumbar spine movement. The lumbar spine consists of five vertebrae and most of the movement comes from forward or backward bending. This is another way to encourage that healthy movement.


Lay on your back with your head supported. Bring both knees to the chest and support with the hands. Using pressure from both hands, rock the knees into and away from the chest. Keep the movement small. Repeat.


Seated thoracic spine rotations

These seated rotations encourage movement through the upper back. That helps reduce the movement in the lower back, which isn’t designed to handle the same sorts of rotations as the upper back.


Sit with a straight spine and arms crossed as shown in the video. Keep the pelvis still as you twist the upper torso to the right, rotating at the waist. Breathe normally as you move. Return to the centre and repeat to the left-hand side. Perform this movement with some momentum.


Sacroiliac joint mobilisations

This exercise is designed to encourage movement in the sacroiliac joint. Better movement through the sacroiliac joint decreases the pressure, tension and compression through the lower back.


Lay on the back with head supported and place a rolled-up face towel or small massage ball at the very base of the spine, just below the two bony points. Draw the affected leg in towards the chest and with pressure from the hands, gently rock the knee towards and away from you – aim to keep the movement small. Next, rotate the affected hip out, placing the ankle across the top of the unaffected thigh. With gentle pressure applied with the hand to the inside of the knee, gently rock away from you – aim to keep the movement small. Repeat.


Deadbug level one

This helps train your hips to move better while also maintaining stability in the core and through the lumbar spine.


Lay on your back with your knees bent. Place both hands in the small of the back to monitor for any movement in the lower back. Do not let your spine press into your hands. Maintaining the small curve in the lower back, rotate both hips out as far as comfortable. Reverse the motion to resume the start position. Repeat.


How often should you do these exercises?

When you’re feeling pain do these exercises gently until you feel some relief. Aim to do between 10 and 20 repetitions of each, twice a day.

Once the pain has eased overall, just do the exercises when you feel tension as a way to relieve that tight feeling in the muscles.

If you’d like professional advice tailored to your pain, you can book an online session with one of our clinicians to walk through pain relief options.

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