Low Back Exercises to Relieve Pain

By Terez Malka, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
April 5, 2022

Lower back pain is almost inevitable: Four out of every five people experience it at some point in their lives.

The pain can interfere with everyday life, keeping you from enjoying everything from extracurricular activities like hiking, sports, or exercise to mundane things like walking through a supermarket to do grocery shopping.

Luckily, lower back pain exercises are free and effective.

Researchers have found that these movements can help reduce pain in the lower back by strengthening muscles that support the spine and pelvis, increasing blood flow to the area, and relieving tension. 

In this article, we’ll first discuss how to stay safe while doing exercises for low back pain so that you don’t cause more discomfort.

Then we’ll share the step-by-step for 10 exercises you can do at home to relieve and prevent lower back pain. 

Before Getting Started

If your low back pain is due to an injury or you have any other health concern, talk to your doctor or health professional before beginning any sort of physical activity. 

The exercises below are meant to help strengthen and release tension in the muscles.

Use proper form and listen to your body.

Do not push yourself too much; instead, move your body to the point where you feel a gentle stretch. You should not feel pain; if you do, back off.

Also focus on your breath. If you’re doing the stretches correctly, you should be able to breathe normally through them. If breathing seems difficult, back off or rest.

The number of reps (repetitions) is a suggestion.

You may be able to do more or fewer when you begin. As you gain strength and flexibility, you will be able to increase your reps.

Aim to do the below exercises 1-2 times a day or as often as feels good to you.

Start with once a day and see how you feel. If that’s too much, rest for 1-2 days and try again.

With time, you will build the strength and stamina to do them twice a day.

Experiencing lower back pain? Chat with a provider using K Health.
Get Started

Knee-to-Chest Stretch

This stretch helps loosen the lower back muscles as well as the hips, thighs, and glutes. 

  1. Lie face up on the floor (use a mat for support). Bend your knees and place both feet flat. 
  2. Using both hands, grab your right knee right below the knee cap and pull it in toward your chest. (You can either keep your left knee bent, or stretch the leg out straight on the floor.)
  3. Keeping hold of your knee, press your spine and lower back down into the floor, tightening your abdominal muscles as you do so. Breathe deeply through any tension, and hold this position for at least five seconds.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side. (You can also do the stretch a third time with both legs at once.)
  5. Do 2-3 reps on each side. 

Cat-Cow 

This stretch helps lengthen and strengthen the back while easing tension in the neck, chest, and shoulder muscles.

  1. Come to all fours with your hands below your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
  2. As you inhale, gently arch your back downward, looking up as you broaden across your chest and allow your abdomen to drop toward the floor. (Your back will make a U shape.) This is cow.
  3. As you exhale, round your back toward the ceiling as you tuck your chin toward your chest, pull your abdomen inward, and push the floor away with your hands. (Your back will make an upside down U shape.) This is cat.
  4. Do 3-5 reps, coordinating your movements with your breath. If the stretch feels good, you can stay in it for longer than just one inhale or exhale. 
  5. You may want to add in some gentle rotations of your spine or side to side movements of your hips if it feels good.
  6. If this is stressful on your knees, place a folded towel or mat under them. If this causes any pain in your wrists, you can rest on fists or your elbows instead of keeping your palms flat on the ground.

Child’s Pose

Child’s pose gently stretches the shoulders, neck, back, hips, thighs, and ankles all at the same time.

It can also help increase flexibility and blood circulation.

  1. Come to all fours on a mat or other soft but stable surface. Sit your hips back so your butt rests on your heels. Your feet should be close together.
  2. Hinging at your hips, walk your hands out in front of you, allowing your upper body to lower close to the floor. Continue to lower until your belly rests on top of your thighs. Your knees can be as wide or as narrow as feels comfortable to you. (Try different positions to see what gives you the stretch where you need it most.)
  3. Keep walking your hands out until your arms are almost straight or as far as is comfortable to feel a stretch in your upper back. Hold this position for about a minute, or as long as feels good to you. 
  4. If you feel strain in your shoulders with your arms extended, you can do the same pose, but rest your arms at your sides with your hands by your feet.

Bridges

Strong butt muscles (called the glutes) help support the lower back and relieve pain.

Glute bridges help strengthen the gluteus maximus while stretching the lower back. 

  1. Lie face up on the floor (use a mat for support). Bend your knees and place both feet flat, about hip-width apart. 
  2. Keeping your shoulders and head on the floor, engage your core, contract your glutes, and press into your heels to lift your hips off the floor. Your body should form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Hold this position for a few breaths. 
  3. Slowly lower your hips back to the starting position.
  4. Do 5-30 reps. (Start with five and increase as you gain strength.)

Spinal Twist, Seated

This stretch can improve spine mobility while stretching the hips, glutes, shoulders, neck, abs, and back.

  1. Sit on the floor with both legs extended in front of you.
  2. Cross your left leg over your right leg, positioning your left foot so it is flat on the floor beside your right thigh.
  3. Lift your left arm and twist to the left, placing your left hand behind you for support.
  4. Lift your right arm. Bend the elbow and bring it to the outside of your left knee or thigh.
  5. Hold this position for 10 seconds. With each inhale, grow taller. With each exhale, allow yourself to twist a little more, only going as far as is comfortable. 
  6. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.
  7. Do 3-5 reps on each side.
  8. If you are unable to cross your leg over the other, you can perform the same gentle twisting motion while sitting in any comfortable position. 

Supermans

This stretch strengthens the back extensors. These muscles run along both sides of the spine, supporting it.

  1. Lie face down on a mat on the floor. Extend your arms straight above your head.
  2. Engage your core. Keeping your legs and arms as straight as possible, lift your hands and feet off the floor. (Aim for approximately six inches of space between them and the mat.) Breathe as you hold for a few seconds. Be sure your neck is neutral and not straining. (Look down at the floor or slightly in front of you.)
  3. Return to the starting position. 
  4. Do 12-20 reps.
  5. If this is difficult or causes pain, there are several modifications you can try:  A. Raise your right arm and left leg, hold for a few seconds; alternate sides for 10 – 20 reps. B. Lift only your upper body, then only your lower body. Alternate upper and lower body lifts for 10 – 20 reps.  (You may lift one leg at a time, if lifting both causes any pain or discomfort.)

Pelvic Tilts

Not only can pelvic tilts strengthen your abs, they can also release tension and increase flexibility in your lower back.  

  1. Lie face up on the floor (use a mat for support). Bend your knees and place both feet flat about hip-width apart. 
  2. Engage your core. Press your lower back flat against the floor by tipping your pelvis up slightly. Breathe as you hold for up to 10 seconds
  3. Return to the starting position. Do 3-5 reps.

Sphinx Stretch

The sphinx stretch strengthens the lower back and glutes. It also releases tension in the low back and chest.

  1. Lie face down on a mat on the floor with your legs close together. 
  2. Bend your arms so your elbows are beneath your shoulders and your forearms and palms are flat on the floor. Roll your shoulders back and down.
  3. Press the tops of your feet into the floor. Engage your lower back, thighs, and glutes, then press your pelvis and arms into the floor to lift your head and chest. Stay here for 5-10 breaths, then lower yourself back down to the floor. 
  4. Repeat as many times as feels good. 

Piriformis Stretch

The piriformis muscle is a flat muscle located in the buttocks near the hip joint. It plays a role in almost every movement that involves the lower body.

When this muscle is tight, it can cause pain in the lower back.

This stretch can help relieve tension in the muscle, easing some of that pain.

  1. Lie face up on the floor (use a mat for support). Bend your knees and place both feet flat about hip-width apart.
  2. Lift your left leg and place your left ankle on your right thigh just above the knee.
  3. Reach around your right leg with both hands and grab your right thigh. Pull it toward your chest until you feel a gentle stretch in your outer left hip and butt. Hold this stretch for 15-30 seconds.
  4. Repeat on the opposite side.
  5. Do 2-4 reps on each side.
  6. If you are unable to cross your ankle over the other thigh, you can hold your knee in one hand and foot in the other, and gently work on pulling your bent leg towards you, working on creating a 90 degree angle between your shin and your body over time). 

Partial Curls

A partial curl is exactly what it sounds like—doing a curl or a crunch, but only the first part of it.

Like curls, partial curls help strengthen the abdominal muscles, ensuring that your core muscles are strong enough to support your spine and keep your hips aligned. 

  1. Lie face up on the floor (use a mat for support). Bend your knees and place both feet flat about hip-width apart. Loosely cross your arms over your chest.
  2. Inhale. Exhale and engage your abs, raising your head and shoulders approximately 2 inches off the floor. Keep your neck and spine in alignment. 
  3. Hold for 5 seconds, then uncurl, returning to the starting position.
  4. Do 10 reps.
Experiencing lower back pain? Chat with a provider using K Health.
Get Started

When to See a Doctor 

Most lower back pain will go away on its own with proper home treatment and care.

However, you should see a medical professional if: 

  • An injury or other trauma caused the pain
  • The pain lasts longer than one week
  • You experience numbness, tingling, or weakness in one or both legs
  • The pain radiates to other body parts
  • You have trouble controlling your bladder or bowels
  • You suddenly lose weight without trying
  • You have a fever

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

Terez Malka, MD

Dr. Terez Malka is a board-certified pediatrician and emergency medicine physician.