Back Injury Rehabilitation

Stretches and strengthening exercises can help you to recover from back pain

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Back injury rehabilitation is often recommended shortly after an injury. As you resume your daily activities, a program of gentle stretching and strengthening of the back muscles can help you to recover.

Approximately eight out of 10 people will experience the symptoms of back pain at least one time in their lives, so there is a high chance that you will have to deal with this problem at some point.

This article presents several back injury treatment exercises and stretches to improve your strength and perhaps prevent a new injury. They should be considered in keeping with advice from your healthcare provider.

Woman doing yoga
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A comprehensive back rehabilitation program should consist of stretching and strengthening exercises. The abdominal muscles should be included as they play an important role in back rehabilitation by assisting in the stabilization of the spine. The following exercises should be included to comprise a well-rounded back rehabilitation program.

Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before starting these back injury stretches, or any other exercise program for your spine, to be sure it is safe to do so.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Low back pain caused by a strain or sprain should heal in a matter of days. If it lasts longer than a week or two, make an appointment with your primary care physician. Seek immediate medical attention if you also experience severe abdominal pain, a fever of more than 100.4F, and/or loss of bladder or bowel control.

Stretches For Your Low Back

Back Extension:

  1. Lie on your stomach
  2. Prop yourself up on your elbows extending your back
  3. Start straightening your elbows, further extending your back
  4. Continue straightening your elbows until a gentle stretch is felt
  5. Hold for 15 seconds
  6. Return to the starting position
  7. Repeat 10 more times

This is a range of motion exercise for your spine and it stretches your abdominal muscles.

Cat Stretch:

  1. Get down on the floor on your hands and knees
  2. Push your back up towards the ceiling (like a cat arching it's back)
  3. Continue arching until you feel a gentle stretch in your back
  4. Hold for 15 seconds
  5. Return to the starting position
  6. Repeat 10 more times

Hip Rolls:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor 
  2. Turn your head to the left as you relax and let your knees fall down to the floor on the right side by rotating your trunk
  3. Hold for a count of five
  4. Return to starting position
  5. Turn your head to the right as you relax and let your knees fall down to the floor on the left side by rotating your trunk
  6. Hold for a count of five
  7. Repeat 10 more times

Strengthening Exercises for Your Low Back

Core Exercise:

  1. Position yourself on all fours, with your hands and legs supporting you on the floor
  2. Slowly extend your left leg straight behind you
  3. Make sure that your back remains straight and parallel to the floor
  4. Hold this position for five to 10 seconds
  5. Repeat using the opposite leg

As always, discuss starting any rehabilitation program with your healthcare provider. If any activity causes more pain, stop the exercise immediately. You should do these exercises three times per day. Once you no longer have back pain, you can decrease the frequency to once a day to prevent future problems with your low back.

If you have back pain or sciatica, you may benefit from working with a physical therapist. Your physical therapist can help you progress properly through your back exercises. Your physical therapist can also tell you what to avoid if you have low back pain.

A Word From Verywell

Keeping your spine healthy is important to maintain your maximal functional mobility. Check with your healthcare provider and PT, and then get started on a comprehensive back exercise program tailored to your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is ice or heat better for back injury treatment?

    Ice will limit blood flow to the affected area, so it may control pain and swelling better when it's inflamed right after an injury. A heating pad may work in the days after your injury begins to heal. Some people may even want to try switching back and forth to get relief.

  • What is the fastest way to recover from a back injury?

    Exercise is recommended for a low back injury, including gentle stretching and strengthening. Not everyone benefits from the same type of exercises, though. Be sure to discuss your exercise plan with your provider.

  • What remedies work to reduce low back pain?

    Remedies for low back pain can include a host of options, from mindfulness practices like yoga that stretch the back to massage therapy. Acupuncture, chiropractic treatment, and even cognitive therapy to help cope with pain are among the possibilities.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. Back pain.

  2. Vaičienė G, Berškienė K, Slapsinskaite A, Mauricienė V, Razon S. Not only static: stabilization manoeuvres in dynamic exercises - A pilot study. PLoS ONE. 2018;13(8):e0201017. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0201017

  3. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Low Back Strain and Sprain.

  4. Bernstein IA, Malik Q, Carville S, Ward S. Low back pain and sciatica: summary of NICE guidance. BMJ. 2017;356:i6748. doi:10.1136/bmj.i6748

  5. Kaiser Foundation. Use Heat or Ice to Relieve Low Back Pain.

  6. Larivière C, Rabhi K, Preuss R, Coutu MF, Roy N, Henry SM. Derivation of clinical prediction rules for identifying patients with non-acute low back pain who respond best to a lumbar stabilization exercise program at post-treatment and six-month follow-up. PLoS One. 2022 Apr 27;17(4):e0265970. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0265970.

  7. Foster NE, Anema JR, Cherkin D, et al. Prevention and treatment of low back pain: evidence, challenges, and promising directions. Lancet. 2018;391(10137):2368-2383. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30489-6

By Laura Inverarity, DO
 Laura Inverarity, PT, DO, is a current board-certified anesthesiologist and former physical therapist.