Skip to Content

Safe Exercises for a Bad Back

Dealing with chronic back pain is, well, a real pain in the neck. That awful sting or dull ache in your back can be the result of just about anything, from sitting in your work chair to playing whiffle ball with your kids. As a result, you probably shy away from exercise too, in order to prevent the pain from getting worse.

But here’s the truth: Avoiding exercise can do more harm than good.

Contrary to what most people believe, low-impact physical activity and stretches can help relieve back pain. Obviously, we’re not going to recommend picking up kickboxing or any similar vigorous activity. The safe kind of activity you should look to? Try yoga or Pilates, which is great for building strength and endurance in your back. This not only allows your muscles to function better, but feel great as well.

Walking can be a great way to get started. You can also try some of the exercises below:

  • Low Back Stretches: Lie on your back, gently hug one of your knees towards your chest. Keep your other knee bent and foot flat on the floor. Hold for at least 30 seconds. Repeat two to four times per leg.
  • Hamstring Stretches: Lie on your back, grab the back of one leg and gently straighten your knee until a stretch is felt in the back of your leg. Keep the other knee bent and foot flat. Hold for at least 30 seconds. Repeat two to four times per leg.
  • Leg Lifts: Lie on your back and keep one leg straight. Keep the other knee bent and foot flat. Slowly bring your straight leg up about half a foot off the floor and hold for five seconds. Lower your leg gently and repeat with the same leg 10 times. Repeat for the other leg.
  • Pelvic Tilt: Lie on your back with both of knees bent and your feet flat. Tighten your stomach slowly tucking your bottom underneath you as your back comes in greater contact with the floor. Hold for 10 seconds while continuing to breathe. Repeat eight to 12 times.
  • Wall Sits: Stand about a foot away from a wall and lean back until your back is flat against the wall. Begin to slowly slide down until your knees are bent keeping your back pressed into the wall. Begin with a shallow bend and progress as able. Do not go past the point where your hips are lower than your knees (past a 90 degree bend). Hold for 10 seconds and stand back up. Repeat eight to 12 times.
  • Partial Crunches: Lie with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor, and your arms crossed over your chest. Tighten your stomach and raise your shoulders off the floor. Be sure to keep your feet, tailbone, and lower back in contact with the floor and your neck in a neutral position at all times to ensure good posture and safety. Repeat eight to 12 times.

Whether you choose to take a Pilates class, or walk around your neighborhood, you should aim for at least 30 minutes of activity a day. If you feel any mild discomfort when you start exercising, it should disappear shortly as your muscles become stronger. If you experience moderate to severe pain at any point in your routine, stop your activity and consult with your doctor.

Crozer-Keystone Health System offers comprehensive musculoskeletal care. From conservative approaches to managing pain to spine and hand services, rehabilitation, and joint replacement surgery, our Sports Medicine physicians and the physicians of the Premier/Crozer-Keystone Orthopedics Partnership can help determine what plan works best for you. Appointments within 48 hours; call 1-877-CK-MOTION (1-877-256-6846) or visit

For yoga and Pilates classes call the Healthplex® Sports Club at 610-328-8888 or go to

A Class For You

Find a class that meets your needs. Register at Classes and Events.

Patient Portal

Convenient access to Crozer-Keystone Health Network physicians, medical information, and more. Learn More