Ten back exercises to relieve pain

Siski Green / 13 January 2016

You can help alleviate pain and prevent future pain with these back exercises.



Movement is an excellent way to relieve back pain that’s caused by tension or strain. These back exercises target both the upper and lower back to help stretch the muscles in those areas, helping them relax and also, in the long term, strengthen them.

You may well find relief during the exercises as well as afterwards. Be aware, though, that if your back ache is the result of something else – an injury or illness, for example, you should see your GP before undertaking any of these back exercises. 

Related: Lower back pain self-help tips

Arm swings

Get that tension out of your shoulders and upper back with some wide arm swings.

Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and raise your arms up above your head, bring them back down and towards the back of your body, then swing them forward, bringing them up again at the front of your body.

Repeat 10-12 times, breathing deeply throughout. 

Elbow pulls

This move helps stretch your shoulder muscles and your upper arm muscles too.

Sitting or standing comfortably, raise your right arm, then bend it so that your hand is touching or pointing towards the opposite shoulder behind your head. With the opposite hand, gently take your elbow in hand and pull to release the tension on the right side of your body, hold for a count of 10.

Repeat with the other side. Do this 10-12 times. 

Related: Prevent lower back pain

Kneeling stretch

On your knees, with your bottom above your knees (i.e. your upper legs perpendicular to the floor), place your hands on the floor so that they are below your shoulders. Slowly lower your bottom towards your feet, so that you feel the stretch in your back. 

Downward dog

For this, place your hands on the floor in front of you, bending your body into a V shape. Spread your fingers and make sure your palms are touching the floor fully – this helps prevent wrist strain.

Your back should be straight, your heels should be in line with the second toe of your foot; and your weight should be evenly distributed between your legs and your arms.

This move is excellent for elongating your back and over time will relieve pressure on your spine.  

Back extension

Lying face down on the floor, put your hands, palms down, out to the sides of your head. Slowly raise your upper body then hold the position for five seconds, breathing deeply throughout and making sure your hips remain in contact with the floor. Now lower your body again. Do ten times. 

Tilting your pelvis

On your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, contract your abdominal muscles to flatten your back so that even the small of your back is touching the floor.

Now tilt your pelvis so that your lower back is slightly arched (not touching the floor) and back again. Keep doing this back-and-forth motion for a minute or so.

This helps strengthen your lower back and stretch the muscles there too. 

Knee pull

Lie on your back and clasp your knees, bringing them towards your chest. Hold the position for a count of five and release. This helps relieve tension built up in your back and abdominal muscles. 

Side bends

A lack of flexibility can lead to tightness and pain in your back area and this back exercise helps with that.

With your feet hip-width apart, lean over to the right side, then raise your left arm above your head, keeping it close to your ear and gently push your entire upper body towards the right. Hold for a count of three, then move back to the centre. Repeat on the other side. 

Shoulder roll

Upper back ache is often the result of tension that’s built up from sitting too long or sitting hunched over a computer, for example. Shoulder rolls will help relieve the tension (usually in your trapezius muscles in your shoulders).

Bring your shoulders up to your ears, then lower them down towards the back (squeezing your shoulder blades together and opening up your chest), now bring them forward, closing up your chest and opening up your shoulder blades.

Repeat ten times.

Back curls

These are two basic yoga moves rolled into one. On all fours, with your hands placed below your shoulders and your knees below your hips, curve your back with your head down and your ‘tail’ (the lowest part of your spine) tucked down too. Hold for a count of ten, then rise up to curve your back the other way, so that your upper body creates a U shape.

It’s important not to lead with your head but instead focus on curving your back and bottom, so that your head feels relaxed and you don’t put strain on your neck. 


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