Exercise. Whether you like it or hate it, it’s the natural, free and proven way to treat back pain. Considering your back is going to support you every single day to live your life, investing in regular exercise keeps it healthy.

Exercise is effective because it reduces inflammation, it increases coordination, it generates muscular strength and once you are in the habit of exercising it makes you feel good too.

We’ve curated a set of gentle back exercises designed to promote both strength and relaxation. Establishing an exercise routine with these simple moves will be easy and enjoyable.

But of course, as with all exercises, please consult medical expertise before commencing any new exercises or if you are concerned as to whether these are a fit for you.

Back Arch or Cat and Cow
Level: Easy
Arching the back is a dynamic yoga stretch, which is excellent for the loosening the spine. It is simple to do and feels great. Remember the trick to getting the most out of the movement is to be active rather than passive in the positions, pushing your muscles so that you can feel them working.

  • On an exercise mat get into position by lowering onto your hands and knees.
  • From all fours adopt the cat pose by arching your back. Take a big breath in pushing your spine in an upwards curve like you’re trying to reach the ceiling.
  • Strengthen the core by pulling the belly inwards to the spine.
  • At the same time exert pressure through the arms and legs connecting with the floor.
  • Avoid hunching the shoulders, instead, keep them relaxed.

Hold the cat position for a few moments only and as you exhale release into cow pose.

  • Let your spine drop so it curves towards the floor.
  • Your head will naturally tilt upwards now after looking downwards in “cat”. Because the neck is an extension of the spine try to keep them aligned.

Repeat the movement five times but take your time with it. The muscles all along the spine, neck and hips should feel a bit looser and more comfortable afterwards.

 

Outstretched Bridge or Bird Dog
Level: intermediate
This is another movement common to warm-up training and yoga. It is a natural progression from the cat and cow because it forces you to build core strength and stability along the spine.

  • On all fours simply stretch your left leg out behind you. The heel should be the same height as the bottom.
  • When you are feeling steady stretch the opposite arm directly out in front (in this case, the right arm).
  • Hold the position for three breaths and build up to ten breaths as you get stronger. Remember to swap sides.
  • To increase the workout level gently pulse the legs for 8 counts.

Tip: Feeling unstable? Pull the belly into the spine to increase core stability.

 

Knee Hugs and Optional Side Twist
Level: Easy to Intermediate
Knee hugs work out the lower back and even the thighs. If you are exercising to prevent back pain, you’ll find this one very relaxing to do.  

  • Simply lie down with your back on the mat.
  • Bring your left knee into the chest with your hands just beneath the knee.
  • Hold the position and pull the knee closer until you feel a pulling sensation along the back of the thigh and lower back. It should not cause pain.
  • Swap legs after five breaths.
  • For those needing an extra stretch increase the difficulty level by pulling the lifted leg to the opposite side of the body.
  • Your back needs to remain flat on the floor. The stretch should be felt all along the obliques.
  • Hold for 5 breaths and gently roll to centre before swapping sides.  

Tip: For an extra bit of relaxation, pull both knees in at the same time and gently rock on the floor massaging the lower back and spine area.

Side plank
Level: Difficult
The side plank looks challenging, but it only takes a little practice for the technique to fall into place. It’s more than a back exercise, it is a whole body workout in one move, great for balance, stability and core strength. There are variations for the move so go at your own pace.

 

  • To start with, lie on your left side and stack your feet.
  • Alternatively, cross the right leg over the left so the outside edge of the left foot and the inside edge of the right foot are making contact with the floor.
  • With your left hand positioned under the left shoulder lift your body up into side plank. Use the strength of your hips and core to take the position.
  • The goal is to get the spine in a straight line making a triangle with the floor.
  • Your right arm can be on your hips or pointing up at the sky.
  • Hold in place for three deep breaths, and if you are feeling strong build up to ten breaths.
  • Lower to the ground gently, breathe in and out, then swap to the other side.

Tip: Beginners, rather than lifting from the feet, give yourself more stability by lifting from the knees instead.

It is not unusual for people to forget about taking care of their back in the busyness of everyday. But your muscles need attention. Without muscle strength and coordination you will have poor posture which will lead to back pain later on. Do simple exercises, frequently and your overall fitness is destined to improve.