What Are the Best Exercises for a Bad Back?

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The bird-dog exercise is gentle on the back and works the glutes and abs.

Injuring your back can be frightening and debilitating. Back injuries can come in the form of muscle strains, disc herniations, fractured vertebrae or ligament sprains and tears. When you injure your back it can affect many of the activities that you do daily. Sometimes your back may even hurt while you are just sitting down.

Stretching Exercises

The pain from a back injury is scary and might make you feel like you can't do anything. However, it's generally better to move around and do gentle exercises if you have back pain. Simple stretches are the best place to start, since they require little effort and can be done in comfortable positions.

Knee to Chest

This gentle stretch targets your hip and lower back muscles. It's performed while lying on the back, which is a safe position for the spine.

How To: Lie on the ground on your back. Both knees should be bent and your feet should be flat on the ground. Pull one knee into your chest as far as you comfortably can. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then switch.

Straight Leg Raises

This stretch is performed while lying on your back. It allows you to gently practice moving your leg while your spine is in a stable position against the floor.

How To: Lie on the ground on your back. One leg should be straight and the other bent. Tighten your abs and lift the straight leg up into the air, six to twelve inches high, and hold at the top for one to five seconds before dropping.

Strengthening Exercises

It's also important to strengthen the muscles that help support your back. The gluteus maximus is the big hip muscle that extends your legs and helps you walk, run and pick things up off of the ground. The hip bridge is a back-friendly glute exercise. Your abs are another key stabilizer for the spine, preventing it from bending too far backwards or rotating too far to the left or right. The dead bug works all four of your ab muscles in a position that won't aggravate back pain.

The glute bridge strengthens your powerful glute muscles and is easy on your back.

Hip Bridge

In this exercise, you'll work your glutes, a powerful hip muscle that can take some of the pressure off of your back. Performing glute strengthening exercises can help reduce pain in people with problems at the sacroiliac joint at the bottom of the spine, according to a 2014 study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science.

How To: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Press down into the ground with your heels and push your hips into the air as high as possible. Squeeze your glutes at the top.

Dead Bug

Practice stabilizing your spine by using your abs in this slow and controlled movement.

How To: Lie on your back with your knees bent and legs in the air. Reach your arms straight up towards the ceiling. Press your lower back down into the ground and hold it there. Reach your left arm back and right leg forwards until they are parallel to the ground. Bring them back to the starting position and repeat with the right arm and left leg.

Control Exercise

Finally, you should practice moving your limbs without moving your spine too much. The bird-dog is an excellent exercise to practice moving your arms and legs without moving your back, since the all-fours position takes most of the pressure off of your spine and allows you to concentrate on the movement of your limbs.


Similar to the dead bug, this exercise allows you to practice using your glutes and back muscles to move your arm and leg while keeping pressure off of your back.

How To: Get on the ground on your hands and knees. Your back should be neutral -- neither arched or sagged. Reach your right arm forwards and left leg straight back until they are in line with your torso. Then, put them back to the ground and raise the left arm forwards and right leg back.