How to Exercise with Chronic Back Pain

Exercise has a number of benefits to your overall health, such as maintaining your weight, improving organ function, and strengthening the musculoskeletal system. Although exercise can also be beneficial to those with chronic back pain, it can also be difficult. This poses a unique challenge to those who are looking for a way to exercise that improves their health without aggravating their symptoms. 

In most cases, exercise helps to alleviate back pain and is even considered to be an ideal treatment. However, you need to be sure that you are doing the right type of exercise. Certain types of exercise are better for your back than others, and knowing this can make the difference between exercise being beneficial or detrimental. Here are some of the best exercises for chronic back pain: 

Low Impact Cardio

Low impact cardio allows you to get your heartrate up without unnecessarily jarring your spine. Some examples of ideal low impact cardio exercises include swimming, water aerobics, fast-paced walking, elliptical, climbing stairs, and biking. 

Core Exercises

woman doing a bridge exercise

Strengthening your core is an important part of relieving back pain because a strong core helps to maintain proper posture. Ideal exercises include pelvic tilts, bridges, wall sits, and abdominal exercises with an exercise ball. 

Resistance Training

Resistance training, sometimes also referred to as strength or weight training, centers around using bodyweight or weight machines. These exercises are designed to strengthen certain muscles in the shoulders, chest, legs, and glutes. In doing so, these muscles can help provide additional support to the spine and reduce pain. Ideal exercises include lateral pulldowns, bench press, squats, lunges, and leg press. 

Stretching Exercises

woman doing a knee to chest stretch

In some cases, stretching the hamstrings, quads, and glutes can help reduce pain and pressure on the lower back. Stretching also promotes flexibility and greater range of motion. There are a variety of stretching exercises that can be performed such as hamstring stretches, knee to chest stretches, and back press ups. In some cases yoga may also be used to stretch the body. 


Just as there are exercises that can be beneficial by strengthening certain muscles and alleviating back pain, there are also exercises that can have the opposite effect. Unfortunately, the following exercises tend to place additional strain on the spine, which can exacerbate symptoms and cause more pain. Therefore, they should be avoided. 

High Impact Aerobics

Unfortunately, high impact aerobics can make back pain worse due to the fact that they jar and twist the spine. Therefore if you have chronic back pain, it is encouraged to avoid activities such as jogging, running, playing tennis, volleyball, soccer, snowboarding, trampoline exercises, and certain types of dance. 

Frequent Bending

Exercises that require frequent bending, such as toes touches, should be avoided. This is because repetitive bending down places a lot of stress on your discs and spinal ligaments. Additionally, bending down can also cause the lower back muscles and hamstrings to overstretch and become sore. 

Contact Sports

Sports that require a high level of contact, such as football, soccer, and martial arts, should also be avoided to prevent spinal injury. Not only that, but these sports generally tend to jar the spine and/or cause it to undergo constant impacts. If you are already having back pain, chances are contact sports will only make it worse. 

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