Exercise Ball Work for Lower Back Pain

Side profile of a young woman exercising on a fitness ball

A number of things can contribute to mild or moderate chronic lower back pain, including injury, poor posture, pelvic-lumbar instability, improper weightlifting techniques and an unsupportive mattress. The exercise ball is an ideal tool to help alleviate lower back pain because it gently increases your range of motion and doesn’t compress your lumbar spine when you sit on it. If you have lower back pain, consult your health care provider for a proper diagnosis and specific advice on which exercises are best for you.

Pelvic Tilt

Pelvic tilts on an exercise ball gently stretch your lumbar spine while strengthening lumbar-pelvic stabilization. They're often recommended for pregnant women as a way to avoid or help manage lower back pain.

Sit on the ball with your feet hip-width apart and flat on the floor, with your hands resting on your legs. Maintain good posture. Start with a neutral lower back, so the curve of your lumbar spine is neither arched nor pressed flat. Engage your abdominal muscles. Without contracting your gluteal or leg muscles, tilt your pelvic “bowl” simultaneously up and slightly forward to flatten out your lower back. The ball should roll with the tilt. Keep the movement small; your heels shouldn’t come off the floor. Start with eight repetitions in a set.

Hip Circles

Hip circles increase the range of motion in your lower back and can be especially helpful for chronic back pain. Sit on the ball with your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart or slightly wider. Place your hands on your hips or rest them on your thighs. Sit tall with your back straight. Bring your shoulder blades together and down to open your chest. Roll your pelvis in small, full circles, as if you’re drawing a dime-sized spot on the floor with your hips. Widen the circles in continuous, smooth movements. Reverse direction, starting with wide circles that become increasingly tighter. To further develop lower back mobility, "write" your name with your hips.

Body Drape

The exercise ball provides a supportive cushion, so you can release your body weight onto the ball to deepen certain stretches, such as the body drape. The body drape stretch targets your upper, middle and lower back muscles simultaneously. Kneel in front of the ball. Drape your hips and torso over the top, resting your hands or fingertips on the floor in front of the ball and your shins and the tops of your feet on the floor behind it. Allow your head to hang toward the floor, lengthening the back of your neck. Imagine relaxing your full body weight into the floor through the ball. Breathe deeply as you relax your weight. Hold for as long as you're comfortable.

Spinal Rotation

This exercise provides a lower back stretch through spinal rotation, rather than flexion. You can perform the spinal rotation without equipment, but the ball helps you gently deepen the stretch in a controlled manner. Lie on your back with your knees bent, legs pressed together, feet on the floor and your arms reaching overhead to hold the ball between your hands. Inhale, slowly lowering your knees to the left while rolling the ball to the right. Keep your shoulders on the floor. Exhale and release your weight, allowing your hips and lower back to relax. Breathe through the stretch. Move slowly and with control to switch sides.