10 Exercises and Stretches for Back Pain

Stretches and exercises are some of the most effective methods of treating many types of back pain. In fact, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke states on their website that “exercise may be the most effective way to speed recovery from low back pain.”

10 Stretches and Exercises to Help Back Pain

A woman stretching her back

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By learning a few safe, effective stretches and exercises, most people can find relief of their low back pain.

Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before beginning any stretching or exercise program.


Lie face-down on the floor with your feet extended all the way behind you. Lift your head and arch your back while supporting your upper body with your arms. Locking your elbows straight and keeping your hands by your side will accentuate the stretch.

Rotation Stretch

Stretch the muscles that rotate your back by sitting comfortably and turning your shoulders to one direction and holding in this position. Sitting on an exercise ball can help you perform this stretch comfortably.

Sideways Bending

A bending stretch can also be performed in a seated position. Clasp your hands together and extend overhead. Keeping your arms extended, bend your upper body to one side, and hold the stretch. Repeat in the opposite direction. As with the rotational stretch, this can be performed on an exercise ball.

Hamstring Stretch

Hamstring stretches are important to incorporate into any back stretching routine. Proper posture depends not only on the flexibility of your back but also the muscles that link your extremities to your back.

Hamstring stretches can be performed in many ways. One simple method is to sit with one leg extended with the other folded inwards. Reach down to touch the toes of your extended leg.

Abdominal Crunch

One of the most important muscle groups to strengthen when trying to alleviate back pain is the abdominal muscles. Placing your feet on an exercise ball is useful when exercising the abs because it helps to focus the workout on the muscles without straining the back.

Exercise Ball Crunches

Using an exercise ball can accentuate the abdominal workout of a crunch. Lay on your back on the ball with your feet firmly planted on the floor. Lift your head and shoulders with your abs. When you have your head and shoulders lifted, hold your upper body in this position, rather than falling back down.


Planks can be performed with or without an exercise ball. Lie face down on the floor, and push yourself up, balancing only on your forearms and toes (on your shins if you're using the exercise ball). The important part of the plank is to hold your torso rigid, without sticking your bottom up in the air.


A simple bench press helps to exercise the upper back and shoulders. To perform this exercise properly, lie with your back supported on a bench or exercise ball. Do not focus on the weight you press, but rather on form and control. Press the weight upward while contracting your abdominal muscles and supporting your back.

Reverse Fly and Dumbbell Row

Strengthening the back muscles can be accomplished with dumbbell row or reverse fly exercises. Using an exercise ball is useful to support the body, but not necessary to perform these exercises. As with a press exercise, the focus should not be the amount of weight, but rather to use control with your movements.


A bicycle exercise/stretch should be started slowly. While lying on your back with your arms folded behind your head, bring one elbow to the opposite knee. Relax, and bring the opposite elbow to the other knee.

As you become more comfortable, speed up the process to resemble a bicycle peddling motion.

More Back Exercises

This list is in no way a comprehensive review of all back exercises and stretches. Rather, this should be used as a starting point. Working with a trained exercise professional or physical therapist should be part of developing a program to alleviate your back pain.

1 Source
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  1. Gordon R, Bloxham S. A systematic review of the effects of exercise and physical activity on non-specific chronic low back pain. Healthcare (Basel). 2016;4(2):22. doi:10.3390/healthcare4020022

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.