One thing almost all types of back pain conditions have in common is that part of the long-term approach to relieving the pain involves exercise and fitness.

See How Exercise Helps the Back

Strong back muscles provide stability for your spine. Read Exercise and Back Pain

The good news is that there is such a variety of exercise and fitness options that everyone should be able to find something that is enjoyable and effective.

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Exercise can help your back heal

The natural stimulus for the healing process is active exercise, though it needs to be done in a controlled, gradual, and progressive manner. Movement distributes nutrients into the disc space and soft tissues in the spine to keep the discs, muscles, ligaments, and joints healthy. And the converse is true too—lack of exercise can worsen your pain by leading to stiffness, weakness, and de-conditioning. Regular stretching exercise is also important for healing.

See Stretching for Back Pain Relief

For many lower back conditions, daily hamstring stretches are recommended since tight hamstring muscles increase the stress on your lower back.

See Rehabilitation and Exercise for a Healthy Back

Strong core muscles reduce stress on your spine

Strong core muscles—which include your abdomen, back, and pelvic muscles—help support and hold up your spine, so there is not too much stress on your discs, soft tissues, and joints. And unlike muscles in your legs and arms, which get some exercise just from your everyday activities, your core muscles don’t get much of a workout from daily movements and need specific exercises to stay strong. The same holds true for lower back muscles.

See Back Exercises and Abdominal Exercise Recommendations

Seated Chair Hamstring Stretch Daily hamstring stretches may decrease the stress on your lower back.
Seated Chair Hamstring Stretch for Low Back Pain Relief Video

Walking is gentle and nourishes your back

Exercise walking has many benefits—it helps build strength in muscle groups that hold your body upright, brings nutrients to the spinal structures, improves flexibility, and increases the production of pain-fighting endorphins. It will also help decrease the chances of having recurring and/or increased back pain.

See Exercise Walking for Better Back Health

Walking is also relatively gentle—meaning low impact on your spine. It allows the muscles to be worked without causing much stress or impact on the spine.

Exercise walking involves keeping a brisk pace, with strong posture, and going for about 30 minutes (around 2 miles) 3 or 4 times a week. If you're new to exercise, try starting with 2 or 3 short walks (5 minutes) each day and over several weeks or months work up to being able to go for 20 to 30 minutes at a time.

See Walking Shoes for Exercise Walking

Water therapy leg lift exercise The leg lift, or leg raise, is a common water therapy exercise. See Water Therapy Exercises

Exercise in a warm pool

Exercises that would normally be too painful for someone to do on land—such as walking—are often tolerable to do in the water. This is because the water counteracts gravity and helps to support your weight in a controlled fashion.

See Getting Started with Pool Therapy

The water also provides friction against movement, allowing strengthening and conditioning while reducing the risk of further injury from losing your balance. The support provided by water can be helpful for anyone who is overweight, as the effect of buoyancy essentially negates the extra body weight, allowing free movement in the water. It is also quite effective for anyone with a painful joint condition, such as knee pain, hip pain, or any type of arthritis.

See Water Therapy Exercise Program

Opt for more soothing exercises

For some people, additional benefits can be enjoyed from calm and quiet forms of exercise. For example, yoga incorporates gentle stretching, which increases blood flow, allowing nutrients to flow in, toxins to flow out, and providing overall nourishment of the muscles and soft tissues in the lower back.

Tai chi involves slow, gentle, flowing movements of the body; it does not involve jarring motions that create impact on the spine. It also allows you to develop an enhanced awareness of your body, how your joints and body areas move and flow.

Both yoga and tai chi also incorporate meditative techniques that can help ease stress and anxiety, and many people feel additional benefits from the calm and lightness from consistent and practiced meditation.

See Healing Benefits of Yoga and Tai Chi for Posture and Back Pain

Depending on your specific diagnosis and level of pain, your rehabilitation exercise program will vary, so you need to see a spine specialist who is trained to develop an individualized exercise program and practice with you to learn the correct form and technique.

Keep trying!

If you haven’t had a good experience with exercise before, we encourage you to try again—perhaps try a new instructor or a new form of exercise—because as a general rule, people who exercise regularly simply have less pain than those who do not exercise.

Read more:

Exercise and Back Pain

Exercise and Fitness to Help Your Back