6 Types of Exercise to Relieve Back Pain

Exercise can be an effective treatment for some kinds of back pain. For abdominal muscles to back muscles, strengthening and stretching are part of nearly every back rehab program.

This article lists some of the main types of exercises that can help relieve back pain. Learn more about how strengthening certain muscles can relieve pain, improve mobility, correct posture, and more.


Couple working with yoga instructor at home

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Having too much flexibility and not enough strength, or too much strength and not enough flexibility can contribute to back problems.

Doing yoga consistently is a great way to simultaneously improve your flexibility and strength. When done correctly, it is a gentle exercise that offers many benefits for people with back or neck pain.

One 2016 study found that people with moderate to severe chronic low back pain had significantly less and more mobility after attending one or two weekly yoga classes for 12 weeks straight.

Yoga improves core strength, which helps support your lumbar spine and relieve chronic low back pain. It also improves the flexibility of muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the back, which increases mobility and range of motion.

That said, yoga can have its pitfalls. If you choose to practice yoga, it's important that you are aware of your limitations, along with where your pain is and what makes it worse.

Fortunately, you can easily modify your yoga poses when you need to. If there is a pose that makes your symptoms worse, you can adapt the pose until it feels better for you or simply skip it.

Working with a knowledgeable yoga instructor or occupational therapist can help you reap the benefits of yoga without the risk of worsening your back pain.

Core Strengthening

Woman does side plank exercise

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There is more to your core than just your abs. While your abs consist of four muscles, your core consists of your abs as well as your pelvic floor muscles, deep back muscles, hip muscles, and the muscles that surround your diaphragm.

Your core is crucial because it stabilizes your spine. Core strength allows you to stay upright and change positions while sitting, standing, and walking without falling over. Furthermore, a strong core helps protect you from a back injury.

Numerous studies have shown that strengthening your core muscles supports your spine and improves alignment. This, in turn, reduces back and neck pain.

Core strengthening exercises can be done at home or in a gym with machines or free weights. Granted, you don't have to use weights to work your core. Planks and push-ups are simple and highly effective core strengthening exercises as well.

If you choose to practice weighted exercises, it's critical that you do so with proper posture to avoid worsening your pain.

You may wish to work with a qualified physical trainer if you are new to lifting. The trainer will walk you through a variety of exercises and coach you on how to keep your knees and spine stable as you lift.

Water Exercise

Woman does water therapy with physical therapist

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Water exercise, also known as aquatic therapy, utilizes the unique properties of water to strengthen back muscles, increase flexibility, and decrease pain.

Being in the water provides support and weightlessness, which reduces pressure on the joints caused by weight bearing and/or exercising on land.

The buoyancy of water can support your body while you move your joints, which helps to decrease joint pain and increase range of motion. This makes it an excellent choice for people with arthritis or injuries to heal.

And, if you have ever walked through the water, you know that it provides extra resistance to strengthen your muscles.

Not to mention that being in the water is pleasant and fun for many people. It's much easier to stay motivated and consistent with your exercise program when you enjoy it.

One notable study found that aquatic exercise reduced pain, and improved personal care, mobility, and abilities to carry out work in obese women with low back pain. The women participated in two, 60-minute water therapy classes per week for 12 weeks.

Aerobic Exercise

A group of seniors partake in cycling class

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Aerobic exercise may not be the first thing to come to mind regarding reducing back pain. However, the benefits of aerobic exercise for back pain are well-documented.

Aerobic exercise triggers the release of endorphins from the brain. These hormones exert an analgesic (pain-relieving) effect. Aerobics also increase blood flow to your muscles, bringing oxygen and nutrients that heal your tissues, speed up recovery, and reduce stiffness.

Depending on where your pain is located, aerobic exercises, such as running or jumping rope, may be too jarring on your spine. If these exercises worsen your pain, you should avoid them.

Low-impact exercises are a better option for many people with back pain. Walking, rowing, swimming, cycling, and stair-climbing are all great options to consider with your healthcare provider.

Stretching and Exercising While at Work

Businesswoman does plank exercise using her desk

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It is easy to forget to simply take time out of the day to stretch and strengthen the back and the muscles and joints that support it.

If you work at a desk or computer, taking a break every twenty minutes for two to three minutes at a time can help relieve the physical pain of being immobile at work.

These "microbreaks" can be as simple as standing and stretching, walking a few laps around the room, or dropping down for some push-ups if you can.

Even those with more active professions can get into movement ruts, causing possible strength imbalances in muscle groups and decreasing flexibility.

A desk exercise program should be done in addition to your exercise plan for reducing back pain. It is likely not enough as a standalone treatment.


Exercise has many benefits for back pain. Depending on the cause of your pain, some types of exercise may be better for you than others.

Whereas yoga improves strength, flexibility, and range of motion, water therapy provides resistance training and is easier on your joints. Weight training is ideal for improving the stability of your spine, while low-impact aerobic exercise can help you recover from your pain faster.

A Word From Verywell

It's important to get a diagnosis before starting your exercise plan, particularly since some causes of back pain should not be treated with exercise.

If you are experiencing constant pain that gets worse while lying down or that interferes with your sleep, or if your back pain is accompanied by unexplained weight loss, then you need to let your healthcare provider know.

Once your provider gives you the go-ahead to exercise, your next goal should be finding a program that makes you feel good. Ultimately, the best exercise for you is one you enjoy enough to stick with.

8 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.
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By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.