Best Lower Back Pain Exercises You Can Do at Home

Maybe you spent 40+ hours a week sitting at a desk. Or you’re on your feet all day, but you’re also constantly bending and lifting heavy items. Or maybe you stay at home with the kids, but you’re also toting a toddler around on your hip.

All of these scenarios can lead to lower back pain, and if you’re experiencing it, you’re in the majority.

About 80 percent of adults experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. It’s the most common job-related disability, and it’s a leading cause of missed work.

“Back pain is one of the most common diagnoses we see in our physical therapy  clinic,” said Andrew Brown, PT, DPT, CCCE. “We get referrals from pain management physicians, spine surgeons and worker’s comp all the time.”

two of the best exercises for lower back painAndrew Brown, PT, DPT, CCCE

Luckily, most back pain problems are short-term (acute). Some people do suffer from chronic back pain, which lasts 12 weeks or longer. Whether you’re experiencing severe lower back pain from an underlying condition that requires diagnosis and treatment, or you have the occasional bout of back pain, it’s important to identify the cause so you can find a solution.

“Every patient is different, and the best lower back pain exercises via physical therapy are individualized for each person,” said Brown. “That being said, when we work with a patient to teach them the best lower back pain exercises for them, we’re trying to identify movement that reduces pain symptoms.”

Occupational therapy uses a similar approach in that it’s customized for the particular person experiencing pain, however it focuses on more than physical exercises.

“Occupational therapists are trained to treat the patient holistically – the physical, cognitive, and emotional aspects of pain,” said Melissa Gibboney, OTD, OTR/L, occupational therapy supervisor at Firelands Regional Medical Center. “We listen to the patient to help identify ways of redirecting pain through meditation, relaxation techniques, and positioning. “That’s what I love about my job being an OT, every patient is different and has specific goals in mind. I first identify what is meaningful to them and then develop a collaborative plan.”

Physical therapy focuses on four main areas to reduce lower back pain: mobility, flexibility, core strength, and posture.

“Poor posture and core strength are two of the most common reasons I see people for lower back pain,” said Brown. “If we can help strengthen and correct those areas first, our patients are off to a much more successful start to easing their pain.”

Here’s what Brown recommends for the best lower back pain exercises to master at home:

Best Lower Back Pain Exercise #1: Correcting Poor Posture While Sitting

“When you sit or stand for long periods of time, it’s really hard on your spine,” said Brown. “A lot of back pain problems can be solved with better posture.”

In the video below, Andrew shows how he teaches a lower back pain patient to correct and learn good posture, which will help ease stress placed on the spine and lower back.

  1. Ensure your chair height isn’t too high – feet should sit flat on the floor. Lower your chair if necessary.
  2. Knees should be bent 90 degrees.
  3. Thighs should be parallel to the floor.
  4. Your bottom should be all the way towards the back of the chair.
  5. After sliding your bottom back, move the chair closer to the computer.
  6. Ideally the keyboard should be at a height where your shoulders are not raised or tense.
  7. The top of your computer monitor should be at eye-level.
  8. For proper spine curvature while sitting at a desk, use a lumbar support pillow or a rolled towel behind the back, near your belt line. It may feel awkward, because you’re not used to sitting this way. However this is the natural position of your spine and will help prevent lower back pain.

Best Lower Back Pain Exercise #2: Abdominal Brace for Core Strength

Your core strength plays a major role in the health of your spine and whether or not you experience back pain. And we’re not just talking about your front abdominal muscles – we’re talking about your entire core. Andrew says this foundational exercise is one he teaches almost all patients who come to him with back problems, and you should master it before moving on to other core exercises.

  1. Lay back on a flat surface with your knees bent.
  2. Place your fingers below your ribs but above your hips.
  3. Contract your abdominal muscles and side muscles at the same time. You should tighten your core, but don’t bear down or hold your breath.
  4. This may feel unnatural when trying for the first time, because it’s unlike the tightening that accompanies a crunch or sit-up. You should be able to talk while contracting.
  5. Hold for five seconds.
  6. Release and repeat steps three and four at least 20 to 30 times.

Mastering the above two physical therapy exercises for lower back pain is crucial before expecting any kind of pain relief. Your spine and core go hand-in-hand, so you must strengthen your core in order to strengthen your back.

best lower back pain exercisesMelissa Gibboney, OTD, OTR/L, occupational therapy supervisor
Gibboney also offers a few pointers for lower back pain from an occupational therapy perspective.

“There are many techniques and even adaptive equipment that patients can use to complete a task, but in a more ergonomic, safe way to help prevent further pain or injury,” said Gibboney. “Educating our patients is a huge aspect of what we do from implementing energy conservation techniques, positioning and body mechanics, stretching, strengthening, and maintaining precautions for carryover during functional every day activities.”

If working with a physical or occupational therapist is necessary for pain relief, rest-assured that you will be taught the tools you need for long term pain relief, not a quick fix or Band-Aid for the discomfort. PTs and OTs set a plan of care for a certain length of time, as well as an estimated prognosis, and provide patients with a home program that includes some of the best exercises for lower back pain to practice at home daily.

“We really want to teach you how to help yourself,” said Brown.

Gibboney seconded this approach. “The goal is to assist a patient in living his or her life to the fullest, safest, most independent, and with the least amount of pain,” she said. “We attempt to empower our patients to be in control of their pain, recovery, and independence.”

Learn more about the physical and occupational therapy services offered at Firelands Regional Medical Center for conditions like lower back pain, and talk to your doctor about if exercises for lower back pain may benefit you.