Back exercises

by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR

Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.

Click here: Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit

Back pain is a ubiquitous problem in society. A multi-disciplined approach to managing this problem is the most effective one. A number of different measures can be employed. These include rest, exercise, medications, injections, physical therapy, and the like. Multiple studies have shown that people who exercise regularly have far fewer problems with their back.

Exercising helps reduce the risk of falls and along with other core exercises will reduce back strain. The "core" extends from the armpits to the knees.

Stretching reduces the risk of muscle spasms.

Weight bearing exercises help prevent loss of bone leading to osteoporosis, reducing the risk of fractures.

Aerobic exercise, causes the release of endorphins which reduce pain. Improved posture also is a benefit of exercise.

Important Notice: A variety of exercises can be helpful. However, before trying these exercises, you should consult with your physician or physical therapist. It is possible to injure yourself while attempting these. That is the reason to consult a specialist before embarking...

Here are some examples that have been culled from various physical therapy sources:

Knee chest

Lie on your back on the floor. Bend one knee up towards the chest and hold with hands for a count of five. Slowly straighten the other leg along the floor. Hold for five counts. Return to starting position, then repeat on opposite side.

Pelvic tilt

Lie on your back on the floor. Tighten buttocks and stomach muscles so that the lower back flattens and the pelvis tilts upwards. Relax. Tilt pelvis downward by arching the lower back off the floor. Relax.

Knee rolls

Lie on your back on the floor. Roll both knees to one side, then to the other. Keep elbows on the floor.

Semi sit ups

Lie on your back on the floor. Tuck your chin in, slowly lift your head and shoulders by stretching both hands between knees. Lower shoulders (keep chin in), stretch both hands to the right and left knees. Lower completely. Relax.


Lie on your back on the floor. Slowly lift your buttocks and back off the floor. Lower slowly, stretching spine along the floor.

Back extension. Lie on your stomach on the floor. The low back is gently placed into extension by lying on the stomach (prone position) and propping the upper body up on the elbows, keeping hips on the floor. This should be started slowly, since some patients can not tolerate this position initially.

This position is typically held from five to 30 seconds per repetition, for 10 repetitions.

After practicing this exercise, a patient may be ready for a more advanced form of the extension:

From the prone position, press up on the hands while the pelvis remains in contact with the floor.

This position is typically held for 1 second, repeated 10 times.

A similar exercise can be done standing by arching backward slowly with hands on hips if the patient is unable to lie flat. However, the prone position is usually preferred.

These “extension” exercises are done regularly, about every two hours. As the pain works out of the leg, the exercises typically are advanced to strengthen the low back and abdominal muscles to prevent recurrences of sciatica pain caused by a herniated disc. To strengthen the low back muscles:

In the prone position (lying on your stomach on the floor) and with hands clasped behind the lower back, raise the head and chest slightly against gravity while looking at the floor (stay low).

In the prone position with the head and chest lowered to the floor, lightly raise an arm and opposite leg slowly, with the knee locked, 2-3 inches from the floor.

To strengthen the abdominal muscles:

For the upper abdominals, lay on the back with knees bent, fold arms across the chest, tilt the pelvis to flatten the back, and curl-up lifting the head and shoulders from the floor. Do not attempt to lift too high, and bring the head and chest towards the ceiling. For patients with neck pain, place the hands behind the head.

For the lower abdominals, tighten the lower stomach muscles and slowly raise the straight leg 8 to 12 inches from the floor, keeping the low back held flat against the floor. Water exercises are also excellent. Water walking in waist-deep water is beneficial.

Aerobic conditioning for general fitness is recommended. Walking is an excellent form of exercise for the low back.

Always warm up before exercising.

Exercises that should be avoided include any activity that involves prolonged sitting (rowing, a standard stationary bike), excessive strain on the back (cross country ski machine), and impact loading (running). Exercises or activities that involve twisting (golf) should also be cautioned against.

Rule of thumb: any exercise that makes back pain worse should be avoided.

Get more information about back exercises as well as...

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• Obsolete treatments for knee osteoarthritis that still are used... and may still work for you!

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• And much more...

Click here Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit

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