Exercises: Back Stretches & Strengthening
Exercise is a vital part of treating the spine after injury or surgery. Active therapeutic exercises distribute nutrients into the disc space, joints and soft tissues in the back. A regular exercise routine helps patients improve mobility and strength, minimize recurrence, and reduces the severity and duration of possible future episodes of back pain.
What exercises help maintain a healthy back?
Exercises for a healthy back can be divided into three basic groups:
- Strengthening: repeated muscle contractions until the muscle becomes tired.
- Stretching or Flexibility: slow, sustained lengthening of the muscle.
- Low-impact Aerobic: steady exercise using large muscle groups.
All of these exercises should be performed slowly and comfortably to avoid injury. When performing strengthening and flexibility exercises, remember to breathe naturally and without holding your breath; exhale during exertion and inhale during relaxation.
We strongly recommend that you consult with your physician or physical therapist before beginning any exercise program. The following are general exercises for those with low back symptoms. Modifications may be necessary for specific spine conditions. DO NOT ignore pain. If you feel increased pain or pain spreading to the legs, do not continue the activity.
Exercises: Back Stretches
1. Supine Hamstring Stretch: Lie on your back, starting with both knees bent. Wrap a rope or towel around one foot. While holding both ends of the towel, slowly lift one leg off the surface until a stretch is felt in the back of the leg. Hold 20 seconds. Return to the starting position. Repeat 3 times on each side. Perform 2 times per day.
2. Knee to Chest: Lie on your back with both knees
bent. Grab behind one knee and gently pull the
knee towards your chest until a comfortable stretch
is felt in the lower back. Hold 20 seconds then
return to starting position. Repeat 3 times on each
side. Perform 2 times per day.
3. Piriformis Stretch: Lie on your back with both knees bent. Pull one knee to your opposite shoulder. Keep your back flat, do not twist. Hold 20 seconds then return to the starting position. Repeat 3 times on each side. Perform
2 times per day.
4. Prone Quadriceps Stretch: Lie on your stomach. Put
a rope, sheet or belt around one of your feet and
pull your heel toward your buttock until you feel a
stretch in the front of the thigh. Hold 20 seconds
then return to the starting position. Repeat 3 times
on each side. Perform this exercise 2 times per day.
5. Calf stretch: Stand facing a wall. Keep back leg straight with heel on floor and foot facing forward. Bend front knee slightly and lean into wall until a stretch is felt in the calf. It is important to keep the back heel on the floor throughout entire stretch. Hold 20 seconds. Return to starting position. Repeat 3 times on each side. Perform 2 times per day.
Exercises: Back Strengthening
1. Transverse Abdominal Contraction: Lie on your back with both knees bent, feet flat. Tighten abdominal muscles by pulling your belly button towards your spine. Hold 10 seconds and relax. Repeat 10 times. Perform 2 times per day.
2. Bridging: Lie on your back with both knees bent. Squeeze your buttocks together then slowly lift
your buttocks off the table, keeping your stomach tight and buttocks contracted. Slowly lower and release to starting position. Hold 5 seconds and
repeat 10 times. Perform 2 times per day.
3. Gluteal Squeeze: Lie on your back with both knees bent and squeeze your buttocks together. Hold 10 seconds and relax. Repeat 10 times. Perform 2 times per day.
4. Transverse Abdominal March: Lie on your back with both knees bent. Tighten your abdominal muscles
by bringing your belly button toward your spine. Slowly march by lifting one leg off the floor, then alternating to the other. Continue pulling your belly button toward spine during this exercise. Repeat 10 times on each side. Perform 2 times per day.
5. Wall Squats: Stand with your back against a wall with your feet approximately 1-2 feet away from the wall. With feet shoulder width apart, squat approximately ½ of the way down, making sure your knees do not go past your toes. Hold 10 seconds and repeat 10 times. Perform 2 times per day.
Sources & links
If you have more questions, please contact Mayfield Brain & Spine at 800-325-7787 or 513-221-1100.
updated > 1.2017
reviewed by > Lisa Cleveland, PT, Mayfield Clinic, Cincinnati, OH
Mayfield Certified Health Info materials are written and developed by the Mayfield Clinic. This information is not intended to replace the medical advice of your health care provider.
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