10 Best Exercises for Back Pain

by Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Writer

Back pain is extremely common. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 80 percent of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lives. And while the causes of back pain can vary, exercise can improve back strength, flexibility, range of motion, and overall fitness. If your doctor says it is safe to exercise, read ahead to find out which exercises are recommended to help you feel better.

Aerobic exercise class

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise may be of the last things you think about doing when your back is hurting. However, a meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation showed that aerobic exercise can effectively diminish pain intensity and improve the physical and psychologic function of those experiencing low back pain.

Working out core

Core stabilization exercises

Chronic low back pain is associated with weakness in the trunk and surrounding muscles, according to the Journal of Clinical Rehabilitation. This weakness can lead to a loss of back stability and recurrent injuries to the spine. Therefore, it is recommended that you do exercises that target multiple muscle groups surrounding your core. Improving your core strength will help integrate your abdominal muscles into your movements so that they can help protect your spine.

motor-control exercise.

Muscle coordination exercises

Activating your deep trunk muscles to have better control and coordination of these muscles is one form of exercise that has been shown to improve back pain. These types of exercises are often referred to as motor-control exercises. They often involve you learning to contract your deep trunk muscles on demand. Learning to do these exercises may require the help of a certified trainer or physical therapist.

Working core in pilates class.


Pilates is a method of exercise and physical movement designed to stretch, strengthen, and balance the body. It is a practice of specific exercises paired with focused breathing patterns. It has also been used successfully to treat non-specific chronic low back pain. According to a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, when compared to minimal intervention, Pilates-based exercise provided superior pain relief.

Yoga, lotus position on beach.


Yoga has been used for thousands of years to improve health and well-being. It has also been shown to improve back function in those with chronic back pain.

You can find a variety of yoga poses here that can be easily added to your daily routine.

Walking with friends for exercise.


If you have back pain, some forms of exercise may be too painful for you. Walking allows you to move your body and strengthen the muscles surrounding your spine while you set a pace that feels right for you. Putting on supportive shoesbefore you set out for a walk is extremely important if you are experiencing back pain.

Stretching before walk.


Impairments in flexibility are present in many people with back pain. This could be both the cause and the result of living with chronic back pain. Stretching has been shown effective at improving pain, function, and quality of life in individuals with chronic low back pain. Because there are so many different types of stretching programs, it may be a good idea to consult with a certified trainer or a physical therapist about a program that is right for you.

Father swimming with his son.


It makes sense that moving around in the water can make us feel better if our backs are bothering us. There are multiple studies that support our intuition and at least one study that concludes that water-based exercise produces better improvement for those with chronic low back pain than land-based exercise. If you are joining a pool for the first time, be aware that some pools keep their temperatures colder than others, especially if they are used for competition.

practicing tai chi in a park.

Tai chi

Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that is practiced both for defense training and health benefits. It has also been used as a treatment for back pain with promising results in several studies of adults with low back pain. Two studies found that tai chi reduced pain and another study found that tai chi improved function in those living with back pain.

Woman practicing Qigong


Qigong (pronounced: chee-gong) is a mind-body-spirit practice that integrates posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound, and focused intent, according to the National Qigong Association. While the research is limited on its effectiveness in the treatment of back pain, it is showing promise in the treatment of chronic pain in general, and neck pain specifically. Improving posture, strength, and flexibility are all helpful to back pain so more studies are undoubtedly soon to follow.

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.

Davenport is the founder of Tracyshealthyliving.com. Using the latest scientific research, she helps people live their healthiest lives via one-on-one coaching, corporate talks, and sharing the more than 1,000 health-related articles she's authored.