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The 24 Best Low Back Pain Exercises for Pain Relief

Are you looking for the best low back pain exercises for pain relief?

Look no further!

In this article, I put together the 24 best low back pain exercises to address each stage of your recovery.

The exercises I included are a result of over 24 years of experience working with people suffering from varying degrees of pain and dysfunction.

The best low back pain exercises on this list follow the ASM Roadmap™️, a comprehensive, logical, and well-coordinated system I developed and expanded on in my book Back Pain Unlocked.

the best low back pain exercises
ASM Roadmap™️

You may have noticed in many back programs that the emphasis is on strengthening your core right from the get-go.

You were taught that to fix your back pain; you have to strengthen your back and abdominal muscles.

That is true.

But that is placing the cart before the horse.

If all you need is a strong back to fix your back pain, then wouldn’t that imply that people who have weak core muscles should have back pain and people who have strong core should not have back pain? 

But you know very well that that is not the case.

Many people who’ve never exercised their core muscles walk around without back pain. And, many people who works out their core still suffer from back pain.

That is why the ASM Roadmap™️, starts with the ALIGN exercises before introducing you to the STABILIZE phase and, finally capping the program with MAINTENANCE exercises.

By following the ASM Roadmap™️, you will achieve a pain-free and functional back!

What is the Best Low Back Pain Exercises?

Here are top my picks for the best and most effective low back exercises for pain relief, organized according to the different phases of your recovery:

What is the ALIGN Phase?

ALIGN Phase

Starting with the ALIGN phase will teach you to first achieve the optimum pain-free position of your spine, also called your “neutral spine position”, using different techniques and movements of your pelvis.

You will learn how to move and control your pelvis.

You will also release the usual suspects of tight muscles in incessant states of spasm, holding your spine captive to incorrect or strained positions.

What Exercises Are in the ALIGN Phase?

Lumbo-Pelvic Control Exercise

Lumbo-Pelvic Control Exercise

Lie down on a firm bed, exercise mat, or the floor if it’s comfortable.

When you perform pelvic rocking from this position, you’re essentially taking the natural curve out of your lower back, flattening your back, then bringing it back to its neutral, pain-free spine position.

1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. In this position, the natural curve of your lumbar spine will lift the lower back slightly off the floor.

2. Exhale and slowly tilt your pelvis toward your head by engaging your abdominal muscles to pull your belly button back to your spine. As you do this, you’ll feel your lower back pressing into the floor.

3. Maintain this position while counting up to five seconds.

4. Return to your original position.

5. Do 10-15 reps.

Lumbo-Pelvic Control Exercise Progression #1

Lumbo-pelvic control exrecises

1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. In this position, the natural curve of your lumbar spine will lift the lower back slightly off the floor.

2. Exhale and slowly tilt your pelvis toward your head by engaging your abdominal muscles to pull your belly button back to your spine. As you do this, you’ll feel your lower back pressing into the floor.

3. Once you’ve engaged your abs and tilted your pelvis you will slowly lift one foot off the ground, bringing your knee in toward your chest.

4. Make sure that as you perform the knee to chest movement, your low back stays firmly on the ground. Slowly lower that foot back down on the floor and raise the other knee up toward your chest.

5. Keep alternating legs, marching for 10-15 reps on each leg.

Note: This should be a controlled march that you can speed up as you become confident in your ability to keep your low back against the ground and your core braced.

Lumbo-Pelvic Control Exercise Progression #2

lumbo-pelvic control exercises

1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. In this position, the natural curve of your lumbar spine will lift the lower back slightly off the floor.

2. Exhale and slowly tilt your pelvis toward your head by engaging your abdominal muscles to pull your belly button back to your spine. As you do this, you’ll feel your lower back pressing into the floor.

3. Slowly lift both of your knees toward your chest. Make sure to keep your low back against the ground as you lift both knees.

4. Slowly lower your feet flat down to the ground to release the contraction of your abdominal muscles.

Note: If at any point your abdominal muscles aren’t engaged and your low back isn’t firmly pressed into the ground, pause and reset or regress the movement back to the march (Progression #1) until you are ready for the double knee tuck.

It is very important that you focus on quality movements and not just progress to the next exercise as quickly as you can.

UNLOCK and STRETCH Techniques

There are certain muscles that often “lock-up” because of back pain.

Either because of true adaptive muscle tightness or protective muscle tension, the tightness or tension on these muscles often makes it difficult to achieve a pain-free neutral spine.

Perform the exercises below to (A) unlock muscle tension and (B) stretch muscle tightness:

Hip Flexor UNLOCK

hip flexor unlock
Right Hip Flexor Unlock

1. While standing, place your left foot flat on top of a chair in front of you.

2. Stand upright and tilt your pelvis backward, unlocking the iliopsoas muscle in front of your right hip.

3. Return your pelvis to its original position.

4. Repeat 5 times on each side.

Hip Flexor STRETCH

Right Hip Flexor Stretch

1. While keeping your pelvis posteriorly tilted (see Step #2 of Hip Flexor Unlock), push your left knee forward as far as you can, stretching the tight iliopsoas muscle in front of your right hip.

2. Maintain the position and hold the stretch for 30 seconds.

3. Return to the original position.

4. Repeat 5 times on each side.

Hamstring UNLOCK

Hamstring unlock
Left Hamstring Unlock

1. Stand with one foot in front of the other.

2. Position the front foot with the heel on the floor and the forefoot and toes raised up.

3. Lean slightly forward and tilt your pelvis forward until you feel the stretch in your hamstring muscles.

4. Hold the gentle stretch for 30 seconds.

5. Return to the original position.

6. Repeat 5 times on each side.

Hamstring STRETCH

Hamstring stretch
Left Hamstring Stretch

1. While standing, place one foot flat on a chair with your knee extended.

2. Tilt your pelvis forward.

3. Lean forward until you feel the stretch on your hamstring muscles.

4. Maintain the position and hold the gentle stretch for 30 seconds.

5. Repeat 5 times on each side.

Piriformis UNLOCK

Piriformis unlock
Right Piriformis Unlock

1. Lie on your back.

2. Bend both knees up and put your feet flat on the ground.

3. Place a tennis ball in the middle of one butt cheek underneath your hip.

4. Draw one knee as far out as you can until you feel the stretch on your piriformis muscle.

5. Repeat 5 times on each side.

Piriformis STRETCH

piriformis stretch
Right Piriformis Stretch

1. Lie on your back.

2. Bend both knees up and put your feet flat on the ground.

3. Cross one leg up by placing the same leg on top of the other thigh.

4. Draw your knee up to your chest until you feel a stretch on your piriformis muscle.

5. Maintain the position and hold the stretch for 30 seconds.

6. Repeat 5 times on each side.

RELATED: Chronic Low Back Pain: To Bend or Not to Bend

What is the STABILIZE Phase?

stabilize phase

There is evidence that your lumbar and abdominal muscles (multifidus and tranversus abdominis) contribute to your lumbar spine and pelvis stability, segmental stiffness, and support of the spine when stability is challenged.

Therefore, achieving control and coordination of these muscles is critical to achieving fully sufficient spinal stability.

When these muscles contract, they create a stable base for all of your movements and physical function.

If these muscles are weak or not coordinated, then it can lead to inadequate support and stability to your lumbar spine causing recurring low back pain or other injuries.

Learning how to activate these muscles properly through targeted physical activity or exercise is the secret to achieving the best support and stability for your low back.

What Exercises Are in the STABILIZE Phase?

Tabletop Isometric Hold

table top core exercise

1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. In this position, the natural curve of your lumbar spine will lift the lower back slightly off the floor.

2. Exhale and slowly tilt your pelvis toward your head by engaging your abdominal muscles to pull your belly button back to your spine.

As you do this, you’ll feel your lower back pressing into the floor.

3. Once you’ve engaged your abs and tilted your pelvis, you will lift one foot up off the ground, bringing your knee directly on top of your hips.

4. Keeping your abdominal muscles engaged and your pelvis tilted toward your head, lift the other foot up off the ground, bringing your knee directly on top of your hips.

5. Keeping your abdominal muscles engaged and your low back flat on the floor, maintain the position for 5-10 seconds.

6. Slowly return to the original position.

7. Repeat 10 times.

Segmental Bridge

segmental bridge exercise

1. Lie on your back with bent knees and the soles of your feet on the floor. In this position, the natural curve of your lumbar spine will lift the lower back slightly off the floor.

2. Exhale and slowly tilt your pelvis toward your head by engaging your abdominal muscles to pull your belly button back to your spine.

As you do this, you’ll feel your lower back pressing into the floor.

3. Starting from the bottom of your spine, to your mid back, and finally to your upper back, slowly “peel” your spine up from the floor until your hips are parallel to your knees.

4. Hold the position for 5-10 seconds.

5. Return to the original position.

6. Repeat 10 times.

Dead Bug

dead bug exercise

1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. In this position, the natural curve of your lumbar spine will lift the lower back slightly off the floor.

2. Exhale and slowly tilt your pelvis toward your head by engaging your abdominal muscles to pull your belly button back to your spine.

As you do this, you’ll feel your lower back pressing into the floor.

3. Once you’ve engaged your abs and tilted your pelvis, you will lift both feet off the ground, bringing your knees directly on top of your hips.

4. Keeping your abdominal muscles engaged and your pelvis tilted toward your head, extend one knee while keeping the other knee on top of your hip.

5. Keeping your abdominal muscles engaged and your pelvis tilted toward your head, extend the other knee while keeping the first knee on top of your hip.

6. Make sure you keep your abdominal muscles engaged and your low back flat on the ground while alternately extending and flexing your knees.

7. Repeat 5 times on each side.

Plank on Elbows and Knees

plank exercise

1. Lie face down on the ground with your legs together and your arms at your sides.

2. Position your hands beneath your shoulders.

3. Tighten your core and elevate your upper body off the ground, stabilizing yourself with your forearms.

4. While keeping your knees down on the ground, raise your leg and feet off the ground.

5. Do not allow your hips to drop down. Hold the tension in your core for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

6. Slowly release back to the starting position.

7. Repeat 10 times.

Donkey Kick

donkey kick

1. Position yourself on all fours on a mat.

2. Position your hands underneath your shoulders and place your knee under your hips.

3. Keep your right knee bent at 90 degrees and extend your right hip until you lift the knee to the level of the hip.

4. Lower the knee without touching the floor and repeat the lift.

5. Once you’ve completed the reps on the right leg, switch legs.

6. Repeat 10 times on each side.

Bird Dog

bird dog

1. Position yourself on all fours on a mat.

2. Position your hands underneath your shoulders and place your knees under your hips.

3. Brace your abdominal muscles.

4. Practice lifting one hand and the opposite knee just an inch or two off the floor while balancing on the other hand and knee and keeping your weight centered.

5. When you feel steady and ready to move on to a full range of motion, point the arm out straight in front and extend the opposite leg behind you.

You should form one straight line from your hand to your foot, keeping your hips squared to the ground.

If your low back begins to sag, raise your leg only as high as you can while keeping your back straight.

6. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then return your hands and knees.

7. Keep the abs engaged throughout the entire exercise, and work to minimize any extra motion in your hips during the weight shift.

8. Repeat 10 times on each side.

Tall Kneeling Hip Extension

tall kneeling exercises

1. Kneel on a mat or a pillow with your buttocks resting on your heels.

2. Transition into a tall kneeling position by squeezing your buttocks as tight as you can to extend your hips.

3. Simultaneously tilt your pelvis posteriorly as you squeeze your buttocks to extend your hips.

4. Return to the original position.

5. Repeat 15 times.

Multi-directional Lunge

lunge exercises

1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and fix your eyes, hips, and toes all straight ahead.

2. Forward lunge – step forward with your right leg, placing your heel on the ground first. Then sink your hips until the front knee bends at 90 degrees.

Keep your abs and lower back braced, keep your upper body straight, and resist the urge to look down at any point.

3. Return to the original position.

4. 45-degree lunge – Step out with your right leg again, this time at a 45-degree angle. Then sink your hips until the front knee bends at 90 degrees.

Keep your abs and lower back braced, keep your upper body straight, and resist the urge to look down at any point.

5. Return to the original position.

6. Side lunge – Step your right leg outwards at a 180-degree angle. You are not bending the left knee this time, just the right knee.

7. Return to the original position.

8. Backward 45-degree lunge – Step backward with the right leg at a 45-degree angle and drop your back knee towards the floor (without touching it).

Note: Due to the natural way your foot will move here, your toes will come into contact with the floor before your heel, which is normal and safe.

9. Backward lunge – Step straight backward with your right leg and touch the floor with your toes first. Lower your right knee towards the floor but do not touch it.

This position is a direct reverse of the forward lunge.

10. Return to the original position.

11. Restart activity from the forward lunge, only this time with the left leg stepping out first.

12. Repeat 5 times on each side.

Hip Hinge with Back Extension

hip hinge with spine extension

1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.

2. Bend your knees slightly and keep your weight on your heels.

3. Lean forward by bending your hips while keeping your spine straight.

4. Lift your chest and push your buttocks backward.

5. Keep your head up, looking straight ahead.

6. Reach back with your arms and your shoulders pulling down toward your buttocks.

7. Hold this position for 10 seconds.

8. Keeping your position in step #3, lift your arms in front of you as high as you can.

9. Hold this position for 10 seconds.

10. Lower your arms back to your side and return to the original position.

11. Repeat 10 times.

RELATED: Acute vs. Chronic Low Back Pain: 5 Critical Diffferences You Absolutely Need to Know

What is the MAINTAIN Phase?

Maintain phase

Any back pain relief program done 1-2 hours a day, no matter how efficient, is not sufficient to reverse the other 22-23 hours of faulty posture and movement patterns.

That is why the final phase of the ASM Roadmap™️ is the MAINTAIN phase.

In this phase, you will learn proper body mechanics and back care techniques to use throughout the day and optimize your long-term success.

Now that you know how to position your spine in its neutral, pain-free position (ALIGN)…

and use your back and abdominal muscles to brace your spine (STABILIZE)…

we’ll build on what you’ve learned and apply it to your activities of daily living (MAINTAIN).

This is where everything you’ve learned so far comes together not just as a depository of information but as a skill set to be applied every day.

This is the “do what you know” phase.

What Exercise Are in the MAINTAIN Phase?

Hip Hinge

hip hinge

1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.

2. Hold a dowel (or a broomstick, a golf club, or a cane) vertically behind your back with one hand on the top end and the other end by the bottom end.

3. The dowel should be in contact with the back of your head (A), the center of your back (B), and the bottom of your back (C) throughout the movement.

4. Start to lean forward by bending your hips and knees, bringing your shoulders and trunk forward.

5. Ensure the dowel has a 3-point contact with your body at all times.

6. Then, slowly bring the hips back to the starting position, ensuring the dowel has a 3-point contact with your body at all times.

7. Repeat 10-15 times.

Pelvic Clock in Sitting

pelvic clock

1. Sit in a comfortable position with your feet flat on the floor and your buttocks near the front of the seat.

2. Gently roll your shoulders forward. Feel the weight move backward on your “sit” bones and you tilt your pelvis backward toward the back of the chair.

3. Now straighten up slowly and pause at the mid-point (the neighborhood of your pain-free, neutral spine position!).

4. Now roll your shoulders back and extend your back and tilt your pelvis forward toward the front of the chair.

5. Repeat 10 times every 30-45 minutes of prolonged sitting.

Sit to Stand

sit to stand exercises

1. Scoot your hips forward to the edge of the chair.

2. Bring your toes underneath your knees.

3. Lean your body forward, using the hip hinge technique, while keeping your chest out and your gaze forward.

(Note: looking down will round your upper back and counter the direction of your hip hinge.)

4. Extend your hips while pushing down on your feet to get into a standing position.

5. Optional: Use arms to push off the chair or off of your knees.

Picking Up Light Objects from the Floor

how to pick up light objects from the floor

1. For this technique, the knees only slightly bend.

2. One leg is allowed to come off the floor behind the lifter and acts as a counterbalance.

3. The opposite hip bends and the body becomes almost parallel to the floor, except for the leg bearing your weight.

4. One arm reaches down to pick up the object while the other is often holding on to a stationary object for support, i.e. countertop, chair, or a golf club or cane.

5. Although the chest does point down toward the floor, lifting the back leg allows the spine to stay straight and the counterbalance offsets the strain on the back.

Lifting Heavy Objects from the Floor

picking up heavy objects from the floor

1. Keep a wide base of support. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, with one foot slightly ahead of the other (karate stance).

2. Squat down, bending at the hips and knees only. If needed, put one knee to the floor and your other knee in front of you bent at a right angle (half kneeling).

3. Look straight ahead, and keep your back straight, your chest out, and your shoulders back. This helps keep your upper back straight while having a slight arch in your lower back.

4. Slowly lift by straightening your hips and knees (not your back). Keep your back straight, and don’t twist as you lift.

5. Hold the load as close to your body as possible.

Getting Up from the Bed

how to get up in the bed with back pain

1. The first step before transitioning from lying to sitting up in bed is to gently draw in your abdomen by pulling your belly button towards the bed.

Maintain the abdominal drawing-in maneuver while sliding one heel up at a time to bend both knees.

2. Keep your shoulders and hips in line with each other while turning onto your side.

This technique, referred to as log rolling, helps to reduce the twisting and bending stress on the spine.

3. Once you are on your side, bend your knees so that your feet and lower legs are almost over the edge of the bed.

4. Now push into the bed with your top hand and bottom elbow while simultaneously allowing your feet to drop to the floor.

Summary

There are a variety of low back pain exercises that can help to relieve pain and tension.

The exercises listed in this article are some of the most effective and can be done anywhere without any special equipment.

If you experience low back pain regularly, make sure to add this list of the best low back pain exercises to your routine for relief.

If you make these low back pain exercises part of your routine, you should notice less pain over time and want to do more.

As always, thank you for reading this article.

If you enjoyed this article and the helpful content it provides, consider sharing it with your family and friends!

Dr. Lex Gonzales
Dr. Lex Gonzales, PT, DPT is an author and speaker who has been working as a licensed healthcare professional for over 24 years. On drlexgonzales.com he provides quality information and practical solutions you can use to achieve the best version of your healthy self.

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