These 8 Exercises Can Prevent and Ease Low Back Pain

POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn
POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn

If humankind has a common enemy, it might be lower back pain. It's a leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. It affects up to 85 percent of Americans at some point in their life, reports the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Even if you're taking all the right steps — exercising regularly, using a standing desk at work, and taking stretch breaks — there's still a good chance that lower back pain creeps in from time to time.

In a time when we've made virtual reality strength training a reality, it may seem ridiculous that we haven't managed to solve the lower back pain problem — but here we are. Luckily, there are exercises you can do to relieve lower back pain, and prevent it from cropping up in the future. But before we get into that, here's a quick primer about what causes low back pain.

What Causes Low Back Pain?

"Low back pain can be caused by a number of issues, from acute and temporary like a muscle strain, to long-term chronic conditions like a herniated disc," says Lauren Shroyer, the American Council on Exercise's vice president of Product and Innovation.

Most low back pain falls into the category of "non-specific," which means it can't be directly explained by a specific disease (such as cancer), injury, or organ. That means by its very definition, it's difficult to say what causes low back pain. Imbalances or pain in nearby areas, such as your hips or pelvis, can lead to lower back pain, reports Anesthesia and Pain Medicine. Lifestyle can also likely lead to pain; there's some evidence that excessive sitting can compress the spine, leading to pain, according to UCLA Health.

Regardless of what causes it initially, lower back pain can unfortunately become chronic, which significantly and negatively impacts our day-to-day life. If you suffer from lower back pain, Shroyer recommends performing several key exercises a few times a week.

The Best Exercises For Low Back Pain

We're including two sets of exercises for lower back pain — one to help prevent lower back pain, and one that you can do when you're feeling lower back pain to ease it and keep it from coming back.

The first list of preventive exercises can help strengthen your lower back, with the goal of improving mobility and posture so that you avoid sitting, slumping, or slouching into positions that put unnecessary stress on the lower back. The second round of exercises are stretches to help ease lower back pain without aggravating the area.

Of course, it's always important to check with a doctor or physical therapist before starting a new exercise routine, and that's especially true when you're already feeling pain. So make sure to do your due diligence before swiping through.

Experts Featured in This Article

Lauren Shroyer is the American Council on Exercise's vice president of Product and Innovation.

The Best Exercises For Lower Back Pain
POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn

The Best Exercises For Lower Back Pain

Lower Back Pain Exercises For Mobility and Posture

Seated Row

The seated row can be performed at the gym using a machine, or at home with a resistance band. By strengthening your upper back muscles, you improve your posture by holding the shoulders down and back.

  • Sit on your mat, with a resistance band looped around your feet. Sit upright and extend your arms forward without rounding your back.
  • Pull the handles toward your chest, while keeping your elbows close to your body. Think about drawing backward, and keeping your spine straight.
  • Pull until your elbows are behind your back, then release with control.
  • Perform eight to 10 repetitions, three times.

Bodyweight Squats

Squats increase hip mobility and leg strength, both of which are essential for supporting the spine and taking the strain out of the lower back, says Shroyer.

  • Begin standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, and toes turned out.
  • Shift your weight back into your heels and sink down, pushing your hips toward the wall behind you. Keep your knees in line with your toes and your back flat as you lower.
  • Squat down until your thighs are parallel, or as close to parallel as you can get, with the floor, then come back up.
  • Perform ei ght to10 repetitions, three times.


The deadbug (shown) is a great exercise for improving abdominal strength, while placing minimal strain on the low back, says Shroyer.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent. Draw your belly button towards your spine, tucking like you would in a barre class, so that your lower back presses flat into the floor.
  • Lift your arms and legs off the floor so that your knees are bent at a 90 degree angle in a tabletop position, and your arms are pointing straight up, with your elbows and wrists in line with your shoulders.
  • Slowly and with control, drop one arm back behind your head, and extend one leg out, so that the hand and heel gently touch the floor. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
  • Alternate until you've completed eight to 10 reps on each side.

Single-leg Romanian Deadlift

The key to the single-leg Romanian deadlift is that the only movement should be the hinge at the hip, says Shroyer. The knee should stay flexed, and the spine remains in a neutral position. If you have trouble balancing, Shroyer recommends holding onto something stable, like a countertop or chair, to assist with balance.

  • Start in a standing position with the feet about hip-width apart, the back tall and straight, and the knees slightly bent.
  • Hinge forward at the hips, with your abs tucked in, and start to lift the left foot off the ground. Keep your back straight while straightening the leg directly behind you.
  • To stand up, squeeze the right glute and slowly bring the left leg back down towards the floor.
  • Perform eight to 12 repetitions on each leg, then repeat for three sets total.

Stretches to Ease Lower Back Pain

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

  • Start in a kneeling lunge position, with one foot flat on the floor, and the other knee on the floor. Keep your front knee directly over your front ankle.
  • Lean forward into your right hip, while keeping your pelvis tucked and knee firmly on the ground. You should feel this stretch in the hip flexor of the leg with your knee on the ground.
  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, and repeat for two rounds total.

Hip and Glute Stretch (Figure Four)

According to Shroyer, this stretch releases the glutes, and can provide low back pain relief through connective tissue.

  • Lie on your back, and bring your legs up to a tabletop position.
  • Cross one leg over the other so that your ankle is resting above your knee.
  • Reach through your legs and pull either the back of your thigh or top of your shin to stretch the crossed leg.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Hold for 30-45 seconds, then perform two to five times on each side.

Bent Arm Wall Stretch

By stretching your pectoral muscles you settle shoulder blades back and down the spine, which improves spinal alignment.

  • Stand next to a doorway, or at the end of the wall.
  • Bring your left arm up to shoulder height and place it along the door or wall, so that your elbow is bent at a 90-degree angle.
  • Gently press your chest forward into the open space to feel the stretch.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
  • Optional: Adjust your arm's position on the wall by moving it higher or lower to feel the stretch in different areas.

Gentle Spinal Twist

A gentle spinal twist is a great way to release muscles that are locked and stiff. This variation favors movement to a static hold which is often more tolerable to folks who have chronic stiffness

  • Lie on your side on a mat with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Align your hips and shoulder vertically with the floor and spine and head in a straight line.
  • Cross one leg over the other and gently rotate your trunk on an exhale, until your bottom knee is touching the floor. Avoid rotating your hips and keep both shoulder blades firmly on the ground.
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds, and repeat two to four times on each side.

Kaley Rohlinger is a freelance writer for PS who focuses on health, fitness, food, and lifestyle content. She has a background in the marketing and communications industry and has written for PS for over four years.