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Lower Back Exercises

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What do I need to know about lower back exercises?

Lower back exercises help heal and strengthen your back muscles to prevent another injury. Ask your healthcare provider if you need to see a physical therapist for more advanced exercises.

What do I need to know about exercise safety?

  • Do the exercises on a mat or firm surface (not on a bed). A firm surface will support your spine and prevent low back pain.
  • Move slowly and smoothly. Avoid fast or jerky motions.
  • Breathe normally. Do not hold your breath.
  • Stop if you feel pain. It is normal to feel some discomfort at first, but you should not feel pain. Regular exercise will help decrease your discomfort over time.

How do I perform lower back exercises safely?

Your healthcare provider may recommend that you do back exercises 10 to 30 minutes each day. He or she may also recommend that you do exercises 1 to 3 times each day. Ask your healthcare provider which exercises are best for you and how often to do them.

  • Ankle pumps: Lie on your back. Move your foot up (with your toes pointing toward your head). Then, move your foot down (with your toes pointing away from you). Repeat this exercise 10 times on each side.
    Ankle Pumps
  • Heel slides: Lie on your back. Slowly bend one leg and then straighten it. Next, bend the other leg and then straighten it. Repeat 10 times on each side.
    Heel Slides
  • Pelvic tilt: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your arms in a relaxed position beside your body. Tighten the muscles of your abdomen and flatten your back against the floor. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
    Pelvic Tilt
  • Back stretch: Lie on your back with your hands behind your head. Bend your knees and turn the lower half of your body to one side. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 times on each side.
    Back Stretch
  • Straight leg raises: Lie on your back with one leg straight. Bend the other knee. Tighten your abdomen and then slowly lift the straight leg up about 6 to 12 inches off the floor. Hold for 1 to 5 seconds. Lower your leg slowly. Repeat 10 times on each leg.
    Straight Leg Raises
  • Knee-to-chest: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Pull one of your knees toward your chest and hold it there for 5 seconds. Return your leg to the starting position. Lift the other knee toward your chest and hold for 5 seconds. Do this 5 times on each side.
    Knee to Chest
  • Cat and camel: Place your hands and knees on the floor. Arch your back upward toward the ceiling and lower your head. Round out your spine as much as you can. Hold for 5 seconds. Lift your head upward and push your chest downward toward the floor. Hold for 5 seconds. Do 3 sets or as directed.
    Cat and Camel Exercise
  • Wall squats: Stand with your back against a wall. Tighten the muscles of your abdomen. Slowly lower your body until your knees are bent at a 45 degree angle. Hold this position for 5 seconds. Slowly move back up to a standing position. Repeat 10 times.
  • Curl up: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands, palms down, underneath the curve in your lower back. Next, with your elbows on the floor, lift your shoulders and chest 2 to 3 inches. Keep your head in line with your shoulders. Hold this position for 5 seconds. When you can do this exercise without pain for 10 to 15 seconds, you may add a rotation. While your shoulders and chest are lifted off the ground, turn slightly to the left and hold. Repeat on the other side.
    Abdominal Curl Up
  • Bird dog: Place your hands and knees on the floor. Keep your wrists directly below your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips. Pull your belly button in toward your spine. Do not flatten or arch your back. Tighten your abdominal muscles. Raise one arm straight out so that it is aligned with your head. Next, raise the leg opposite your arm. Hold this position for 15 seconds. Lower your arm and leg slowly and change sides. Do 5 sets.
    Bird Dog Exercise

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have severe pain that prevents you from moving.

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your pain becomes worse.
  • You have new pain.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.