If you have degenerative joint disease, sciatica, a herniated disk, or a weak back from another problem, the exercises given below should help strengthen your back muscles and stretch your spine. The exercises will help flatten the curve in your low back, which can decrease your pain.
Caution: If you have a herniated disk or other disk problem, check with your doctor before doing these exercises.
The exercises are intended only as suggestions. Ask your doctor or physical therapist to help you develop an exercise program. Check with your doctor before starting these exercises. Ask your doctor how many times a week you should perform them.
If your muscles are tight, take a warm shower or bath before performing the exercises. Exercise on a rug or mat. Wear loose clothing. Do not wear shoes. Stop doing any exercise that causes pain until you have talked with your doctor.
- Pelvic tilt
(Purpose: strengthens gluteal (buttocks) and abdominal muscles. Flattens spine.)
Lie on back with knees raised. Squeeze the buttocks tightly together, then pull in your stomach muscles. You will feel your low back go flat against the floor. Hold for a count of 5. Relax and repeat 3 times, increasing gradually to 10 times. Do a pelvic tilt often during the day also in sitting and standing positions. The pelvic tilt is the most commonly recommended exercise for the low back.
- Single-knee raise
(Purpose: stretches low back and hamstrings.)
Lie on your back, with both legs straight. Hold a pelvic tilt while you perform the exercise. Bend one knee and slowly bring it toward your chest. Use your hands to gently pull your knee close to your chest. Hold for 5 seconds, then lower your leg slowly. Repeat for a total of 3 times, increasing gradually to 10 times. Repeat the exercise with the other leg.
- Double-knee raise
(Purpose: stretches low back and hamstrings.)
Begin with both knees bent. Hold a pelvic tilt while you perform the exercise. Pull your knees to your chest. Use your hands to pull your knees slowly toward your armpits. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds. Return to your starting position and repeat 3 times, slowly increasing to 10 times.
- Single-leg raise
(Purpose: stretches low back and hamstrings. Strengthens stomach and hip-flexing muscles.)
Caution: If you have sciatica (pain down the leg), avoid this exercise.
Start on your back with one knee bent and your other leg straight. Hold a pelvic tilt while you perform the exercise. Slowly raise the straight leg, keeping it straight. Keep your low back flat. Raise your leg as far as possible without causing pain. Slowly lower your leg and flatten your low back as your leg nears the floor. Repeat with the same leg for a total of 3 times, increasing to 10 times. Repeat the exercise with your other leg.
- Partial curl-ups
(Purpose: strengthens low back and abdominal muscles.)
Start on your back on a soft or carpeted floor, knees bent. Hold a pelvic tilt throughout the exercise. Slowly raise your head and neck, then shoulders, as you extend your hands to your knees. Keep your low and middle back on the floor. Hold for a count of 5. Return to starting position. Repeat for a total of 3 times, increasing gradually to 10 times.
- Hip roll
(Purpose: stretches low back and buttocks.)
Start on your back, your legs bent. Keep both shoulders against the floor. Bring up your feet, with your knees somewhat together. Then lower your bent knees toward your left hip, then your right hip. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds. Repeat 5 times, increasing gradually to 10 times.
- Sitting bend
(Purpose: strengthens and stretches the low back and hamstrings.)
Sit in a chair, feet flat on the floor, knees no more than a foot apart, hands at your sides. Perform a pelvic tilt so that your low back goes flat against chair. Bend over comfortably, hands reaching toward the floor. Hold for a count of 3. Return to starting position, with your back flat against the chair. Repeat for a total of 3 times, increasing gradually to 10 times.
Exercises to avoid
It is best to avoid the following exercises because they strain the low back:
- legs raised straight and together
- sit-ups with legs straight
- hip twists
- toe touches
- any backward arching.
Sports and other activities
In addition to conditioning your back, you need to condition your whole body. Physical activities such as walking or swimming can help to extend your life while also strengthening your back. It is always best to check with your doctor before you undertake any rigorous exercise program. Remember to begin slowly. Some sports can be harmful to your back.
The best physical activities include the following:
- cross-country skiing.
Sports that may be dangerous to your back because of rough contact, twisting, sudden impact, or direct stress on your back include the following:
- weight lifting
- ice hockey.