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How To Work Out With Low Back Pain

The New Year is here and we are all wanting to shed those extra holiday pounds. The problem is, you have a history of lower back pain and you don't want to aggravate your back.

Which Exercises Are Safe To Do Without Causing Lower Back Pain?

There are many causes of lower back pain. A muscular strain, disc herniation or arthritis will all have different activities and positions to avoid.

As a rule of thumb, if you have a history of lumbar disc herniation or protrusions, you should avoid excessive lumbar flexion (bending forward). Examples include abdominal crunches and sit ups, dead lifts, and hip hinges. Even when you are stretching, be careful to avoid hinging from the waste.

Lumbar Flexion

If you have a history of arthritis or stenosis, you should avoid excessive lumbar extension, or bending backwards. Examples include back extensions over a plinth, or a cobra yoga position. Pay close attention to your spine when lifting weights for your upper body and be sure to avoid excessive lumbar extension (leaning backwards). You may have to reduce the weights you are using to maintain the integrity of your spine.

Lumbar Extension

However, if you keep good alignment of your spine, most exercises are safe to perform. Research shows the more you move, the better. Avoiding exercise because of your history of back pain is not the best solution.


Safe exercises for the lumbar spine, whether you have a history of disc bulge or arthritis/stenosis include exercises where your spine is relatively neutral. Check out the following examples of safe exercises:

1. Pelvic Tilt:

Engage your lower abdominal muscles by pulling your belly button in towards your spine and flattening your lower back (small of the back) into the floor/wall. You can do this laying on your back, sitting, or standing.

Hold each contraction for 5 seconds and repeat 30 times.

2. Pelvic Tilt With Lower Leg Movements:

Maintain the pelvic tilt position, and either march or extend the legs. Keeping the pelvic tilt is key. This is a lower abdominal exercise.

Repeat 3 sets of 30.

Pelvic Tilt with March
Pelvic Tilt with Leg Extension

3. Plank:

Keep your back straight, and assume the plank position. This can be done on your knees, or be progressed so only your hands and feet are making contact with the ground.

Repeat 3 sets of 30-45 seconds.

Plank on Knees

Full Plank

4. Side Plank:

Keep your back straight, assume the side plank position. This can be done on your knees initially and progress to just your feet.

Repeat 3 sets of 30-45 seconds.

5. Bird Dog:

Bird Dog

Assuming the quadruped position, keep your back straight (pelvic tilt) and reach out opposite arms and legs.

Repeat 3 sets of 10 on each side.

6. Squat:


Keep good alignment of your back and make sure your knees do not move forward over your toes. Bend down and then return to standing position.

Repeat 3 sets of 10. Progress with weight as tolerated.

7. Lunge:


Keep good alignment of your back and make sure your knees do not move forward over your toes, slowly bring your back knee towards the ground and return to standing.

Repeat 3 sets of 10.

8. Bridge:


Keep a pelvic tilt, knees bent, and raise your bottom off the ground. Hold for 5 seconds and return to the ground.

Repeat 3 sets of 10.


You can get creative with these exercises, introducing a physioball, BOSU ball or half/full foam rollers to increase your challenge. All of the above exercises are effective and safe abdominal and back exercises, but of course, if you experience pain, STOP! Always listen to your body and do not push through any exercise that is uncomfortable.


What About Cardio?

If you are wondering what cardio exercises work best for you and your back, consider the position of the activity.

1. Biking: This typically causes lumbar flexion. This can be aggravating for those that have a history of disc bulge/protrusions, but great for those with arthritis/stenosis or other knee and ankle injuries.

2. Treadmill/Outdoor Running: Excessive pounding on the joints may aggravate those with disc injuries or stenosis. A fast walk will be better for the joints. But if you love the feeling of a good run, I'd recommend using he elliptical, as it reduces the impact on the spine.

3. Stairmaster: This keeps the spine relatively neutral. It's a safe exercise for most people with back injuries.

If you continue to experience back pain, you should consult with your Physical Therapist sooner than later. You should not have to live with pain! Start off your New Year without back pain and Click here for a free consultation!

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