5 Exercises for Chronic Back Pain: An Expert-Recommended Sequence

Medically reviewed by TJ Snediker, DPT, TPI
2020-06-11

Chronic back pain is one of the most common conditions globally, affecting one in five adults on a regular basis.  It is also one of the most expensive. Estimated costs for the management of back pain continues to rise, exceeding $100 billion annually in the U.S. 

Chronic back pain is defined as pain that lasts over 12 weeks, whereas acute back pain (such as a back strain) only persists for four weeks or less. 

When you are experiencing this kind of chronic discomfort, you may think that bed rest is the answer. But, bed rest is not recommended as it may only worsen the problem and can lead to other long-term mental and physical health issues.

Physical activity is an essential component in the management of both acute or chronic pain. Here are some of our favorite beginner exercises to help with your chronic back pain.

Effective exercises for chronic back pain:

  • Standing Single Leg March

  • The Bridge

  • Clamshell

  • Bird Dog Hip Extension

  • Single Knee to Chest

Before starting these exercises, a few things to remember:

  1. Do not ever exercise when you are in severe pain. If you are experiencing severe pain, consult with your doctor.

  2. Stop immediately if you feel new symptoms. 

  3. If symptoms persist, call your doctor.

Standing Single Leg March 

Why it’s beneficial:It’s a great first exercise to use as a warm-up for the others.

Our expert says:“This exercise is designed to increase your body temperature to prepare for exercise. Performing an exercise like the standing leg march warms up the hip muscles, including your glutes and hip flexors.” -TJ SnedikerTry it:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.

  2. Bend your knee and lift it for ten reps, hold a railing with one hand if you need the support.

  3. Switch, and perform ten reps on the other leg.

Modifications:If this position causes discomfort, you can modify it by performing it lying or sitting down.

The Bridge

Why it’s beneficial:The bridge is designed to strengthen your glutes and core muscles.  Research indicates that there is a correlation between weak glutes and low back pain. Try it: 

  1. Lie on your back with both knees bent at 90 degrees, with both feet flat on the ground.

  2. Maintain a tight core by gently pulling in your abdominal muscles.

  3. Lift your hips up, while pushing down with your heels.

Perform two sets of ten repetitions, holding at the top for about two to three seconds.

 

The Clamshell 

Why it’s beneficial: The clamshell is designed to strengthen your glute medius muscles. Weak glutes force your back muscles to work harder, which can lead to back pain. 

Try it: 

  1. Lie on your side, with your knees and hips bent.

  2. While keeping your ankles together, tighten your abdominal muscles.

  3. Lift your top knee about six inches into the air. 

Pro tip: It is important that you do not rotate your hip and back backwards.

Perform two sets of ten repetitions.

Modification: If this causes you any discomfort, you can modify by performing the clamshell on your back. 

Bird Dog Hip Extension 

Why it’s beneficial: The bird dog hip extension trains your core muscles to work as a group, instead of each in isolation. Better core strength can reduce back pain over time. 

Try it: 

  1. Put your hands and knees on the floor with your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your knees directly beneath your hips.

  2. While keeping your back flat and core muscles engaged, extend both your left leg and your right arm straight out.

  3. Return to the starting position.

  4. Repeat using the opposite limbs, so your right leg and left arm.

Perform 10 repetitions on each side.

Modifications: If this causes you any discomfort, you can modify by raising only one limb at a time or by keeping your raised limbs closer to the floor. 

The Single Knee to Chest

Why it’s beneficial: The single knee to chest is meant to stretch your glute muscles and surrounding areas. 

Try it:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees and hips bent

  2. With both hands, grasp the area in front of one of your knees and pull your knee towards your chest

  3. Hold this for 20-30 seconds, and repeat on the other side.

Modification: If this causes any discomfort, you can reach behind your knee and interlock your fingers on your hamstring. 

How Goodpath Can Help

Chronic back pain is not always easy to overcome, but exercises of this type can put you on the right path to feeling better. 

Need more? Take our personalized quiz to create a customized back pain program.

After you answer a few short questions, we will build you an integrative plan complete with solutions such as exercise videos, recommended medications, and other remedies reviewed by our medical team.