32 Exercises You Can Do To Relieve Your Back Pain Right Now

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Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You grind out work (or surf Facebook) at your desk all day long. Work is never ending but you do your part for the day. Sometimes your back starts to ache but you ignore it anyway. You know, because work isn’t gonna finish itself.

Over time your back pain goes away, but sometimes it returns (worse than before). It’s an on and off relationship with back pain (ugh).

Finally, you seek a chiropractor or physiotherapist for help. You attend one or two sessions.

After a while, your back pain gets better. But you find yourself unable or unwilling to squeeze time to visit a professional. If you stop your visits on the other hand, the back pain lingers and festers.

You either strain your back or your wallet…

And both are costly options.

Sounds like you’re the one losing out here, doesn’t it?

That’s why we’re stepping in. In order to come up with a simpler way for your back pain relief, we created this guide for your back pain instead.

This guide is giving you 32 in-depth ways to deal with the pain that haunts you. Every. Single. Day.

When can you make use of this guide? You can do the exercises inside at home, or when you’re taking a break from work.

[Download the FREE Back Pain Relief Checklist Here so you can do them anytime you want.]

With this guide you lose ALL EXCUSES not to take action *throws excuses out of the window*.

The exercise steps are so foolproof you can practically kiss your back pain goodbye.

If you’re truly lazy (much like someone I see in the mirror every morning)… Then figuring out how to build a habit would be a good place to start. Might as well overcome the laziness gap at the same time.

It’s also understandable if you feel your back pain isn’t that bad right now. It’s probably annoying at the very worst?

Table of Back Pain Exercises

Upper Back Exercises

  • Shoulder Roll
  • Scapular Squeeze
  • Upper and Middle Trap Pull Backs

Upper Back Stretches

  • Upward Stretch
  • Pec Stretch
  • Upper and Middle Spine Extension
  • Reverse Table Pose

Lower Back Exercises

  • Push-Ups
  • Partial Crunches
  • Superman
  • Bird Dog
  • Side Plank
  • Prone Push-Ups
  • Wall Squat
  • Seated Double Knee Lifts

Lower Back Stretches

  • Downward Dog Pose
  • Cat and Cow Pose
  • Child’s Pose
  • Thread the Needle
  • Rabbit Pose
  • Legs Up the Wall
  • Baby Pose
  • Standing Lower Back Stretch
  • Supine Spinal Twist
  • Standing Hamstring Stretch
  • Supine Hamstring Stretch
  • Pigeon Pose
  • Sphinx Pose
  • Cobra Pose
  • Knee to Chest
  • Pelvic Tilt
  • Bridge

Key Principles

These fundamentals arch over a majority of the exercises and explain a little about how to make your exercises more effective as a whole:

PRINCIPLE 1: Breathing

Exhale when you’re exerting force, inhale when you’re easing into another position. If you’re holding a position, remember to take deep breaths and let oxygen flow through your body.

PRINCIPLE 2: Muscular Support

Understand that your muscles mutually support each other. So don’t be surprised if you see that some exercises seem to work more of your other body parts than the back!

PRINCIPLE 3: Consistency

Make it a weekly or daily habit to do the exercises that work for you. There is no magic bullet, there is no special secret — you have to work on yourself for yourself over a period of time to see results. Let’s keep it real here, shall we?

PRINCIPLE 4: Longevity

You’re in this for the long run. So do take note not to overexert yourself. It’s okay to push but it’s not okay to give yourself injurious pain.

And if you’re already injured, avoid doing exercises that involve the injured area.

PRINCIPLE 5: Progression

Remember, our end goal here is to get rid of back pain by being better than yesterday. If the recommended exercise says do 20 repetitions, and you’re struggling at 15 or even 5, it’s okay.

There’s no punishment or shame — this guide is not to make you feel bad for not meeting some arbitrary standard.

So you’ve just read our equivalent of the Ten Commandments. Bear them in mind as you go along and go deep into the exercises for your back.

Let’s dive deep into the self-remedying exercises for your back pain.

[UPPER BACK EXERCISES]

EXERCISE #1: Shoulder Roll

Why does it help?

You know how sitting in front of the computer for hours creates tension in your body right? Especially when you’ve been overusing some muscles and relaxing others for way way way too long.

Besides making you feel good, shoulder rolls actually relieve tension in your shoulder and neck muscles… All while increasing the movement range of your arms. Who knows, you might be a little bit more limber.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Find a comfortable sitting position (on a chair or cross-legged on the floor)
  2. Sit up straight (i.e. not hunched)
  3. Slowly and gently rotate your shoulders forward
  4. Reverse direction in equal amount of time/rotations

Muscles involved:

  • Shoulders
  • Scapula (at the shoulder blades)
  • Upper back muscle groups

Recommendation:

For such a simple exercise, do this up to 1 minute in each direction — forward and backward.

To explore in-depth:

Shoulder Roll Progressions (teaches you how to shoulder roll in other ground poses)

EXERCISE #2: Scapular Squeeze

AKA…

  • Ooh, my shoulder blades can actually touch each other!

Why does it actually help?

Not only does it help to improve posture (if done consistently)…

The scapular squeeze also strengthens your upper back (relieving some stress off the lower parts of your torso).

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Sit up straight (on a chair, or cross-legged on the floor — your choice, really)
  2. Imagine there’s a pencil vertically below the back of your neck, between your shoulder blades
  3. Squeeze your shoulder blades to grip that imaginary pencil — your upper back is now tensed
  4. Your shoulders should feel like they’re being pulled back, while your chest automatically pushes out (you know how those confident people strut with their chest out? That’s the feeling)

Beware:

Remember to keep your elbows by your ribs! Don’t let them flail about or extend out like chicken wings. This is to ensure your shoulder blades can pull as far back as possible, not your deltoids.

Muscles involved:

  • Rhomboid muscles
  • Middle trapezius muscles

Recommendation:

Try this for 10 repetitions, tensing for 3–5 seconds per repetition.

If you are flexible enough, you can try clasping your palms together from behind (it’s kind of like how the Thais do the wai or when yogis greet Namaste, but their hands are actually *behind* them). This is also known as the Reverse Prayer Pose.

However, if you want to focus on the strength building aspect… Find a pull up bar and grab on to the bar, arms straight.

BUT don’t actually do a pull up! All you need to do is raise your shoulders up as high as you can. Don’t bend your arms. At this point, your shoulder blades will be tense and touching each other.

EXERCISE #3: Upper and Mid Trap Pull Backs

Why does it actually help?

On top of actually strengthening the shoulders and upper back, this exercise can firm up the outline of your shoulders a little.

Of course, going to the gym or using resistance bands will help. But we’ll keep this to our agenda of doing back pain exercises for relief.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Get into a sitting position, spine straight
  2. Raise your hands above your head
  3. Extend your arms high (into the sky) and back (behind your neck)
  4. You should feel your shoulders (middle trapezius) tensing and shoulder blades squeezing (see Scapular Squeeze)

Muscles involved:

  • Upper trapezius
  • Middle trapezius

Recommendation:

Repeat for 10 repetitions, extending and tensing for 3–5 seconds per repetition

You can actually do this at your workplace (assuming you have your own desk)… Just be careful not to smack someone walking behind you with a mug of hot coffee.

[UPPER BACK STRETCHES]

EXERCISE #4: Upward Stretch

AKA…

  • Reach for the sky! (Uhh, sort of)

Why does it actually help?

Okay I’m stretching the definition of back by a bit (no pun intended). But this shoulder stretch involves your upper trapezius as well.

What this stretch does is to create then releases tension in your shoulders. Which part of your shoulders? Specifically, your deltoids, as well as your traps. If you ever feel sore from working the entire day, this is the stretch that you automatically do (your body knows it too!).

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Sit or stand straight — this is up to you
  2. Interlace your fingers, palms facing away from you
  3. Straighten your arms and let your palms reach out to the ceiling (or sky)
  4. Extend your shoulders skyward
  5. You should feel not only your shoulders relieving tension, but the spine is slightly more concave and extended

Muscles involved:

  • Deltoids
  • Middle trapezius

Recommendation:

Hold for 15–30 seconds, then get back to whatever it was that you were doing. Cheers.

EXERCISE #5: Pec Stretch

Why does it actually help?

Do you think you have rounded shoulders? That’s what happens when you hunch all day (probably in front of a computer).

This stretch is to help reduce the overuse of your upper back muscles. Your chest may feel tight in addition to feeling that your back and shoulders are aching all the time. By stretching the chest muscles, you can reduce the activity (and strain) on your upper back.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Lean your shoulder against something sturdy (like your door frame)
  2. Push your chest forward, using the shoulder as a pivot
  3. Simultaneously, squeeze your shoulder blades together
  4. Hold for 30 seconds

Muscles involved:

  • Pectoralis major
  • Pectoralis minor

Recommendation:

You can do this muscle stretch anytime, anywhere. Even if you’re at work. As long as there is a sturdy vertical support (pole, door frame), this stretch can be properly.

Be careful if you’re using the door though.

Stretch this muscle for as long as you want. But a minimum of 30 seconds would help to make sure you get the stretch you need. Hold for too short and you won’t actually be releasing the tension or tightness in your muscles.

To explore in-depth:
How to Stretch Your Chest

EXERCISE #6: Upper and Middle Spine Extension

AKA…

  • Thoracic spine extension
  • Look at me, I’m just arching my upper back whee

Why does it actually help?

In case you didn’t infer, thoracic just refers to the upper and middle parts of your spine (the lumbar is the lower part of the spine).

Doing this exercise can counteract the effects of a hunch (an unnatural spine position), and provide relief on the overactive neck and upper back muscles.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Find a chair that supports only up to your middle back
  2. Press your lower back against the back support
  3. Lean your head, neck, and upper back over the back support
  4. Your upper and middle back should be arched and relaxed

Beware:

Don’t let your shoulder blades be the ones obstructing your spine. People typically do this when they spread open their arms.

You can relax your shoulders by your sides, or… Lift your arms up and forward (not to the side), then grab your head. This creates the space needed for your thoracic spine to extend.

Body parts involved:

  • Upper half of your torso

Recommendation:

Extend for 15–30 seconds, and repeat up to 3 times

To explore in-depth:

Thoracic Mobility Drill

Thoracic Spine Mobilizations

EXERCISE #7: Reverse Table Pose

AKA…

  • Ardha Purvottanasana
  • Table top pose

Why does it actually help?

This pose actually strengthens the lower back, chest, shoulders and hips, while helping you stretch your hamstrings. It’s one of those positions that engages the whole body well.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Start by sitting on your butt, legs straight and forward
  2. Place your hands slightly behind you on the ground, fingers facing forward
  3. Bring your feet closer to your knees
  4. Raise your hips up until they’re at the same height as your knees and shoulders
  5. Tense your core, shoulders, and thighs to support the position
  6. To recover, ease your hips down until they touch the ground, then straighten your legs

Beware:

You don’t want to throw your butt down on the ground as you recover — that’s a risk for injury.

Muscles involved:

  • Shoulders
  • Chest
  • Core and hips
  • Hamstrings

Recommendation:

Hold the pose for 30 seconds, 1 minute if you’re stronger.

If you want to bring up the level of this exercise, you can try straightening your legs out from the reverse table pose. This increases the effectiveness of strengthening your core as well.

To explore in-depth:

How To Do Reverse Table Pose

[LOWER BACK EXERCISES]

EXERCISE #8: Push-Ups

AKA…

  • Press ups

Why does it actually help?

Some of the exercises here create relief for back pain. Push ups, on the other hand, helps to prevent future back pain by strengthening your lower back and core.

The core and lower back are relevant here. When we sit too long, the core actually relaxes, and we put a lot of unnecessary stress on the lower spine. Strengthening the lower back will create a better support system for the spine instead.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Get into the push up position
  2. If you just started trying push ups, support yourself by kneeling in the push up position
  3. Bend your arms to go down, with your chest as close to the ground as possible without touching
  4. Straighten your arms back to the neutral position
  5. Repeat as you like

Beware:

Doing (a lot of) push ups wrongly could actually intensify or create more back pain. You don’t really want that. Common mistakes can be seen here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpobgeNpOCI

Muscles involved:

  • Your entire upper body all the way to the hips and glutes

Recommendation:

If you need a number, try 20 push ups first.

Since you’re doing this exercise with the intent of relieving back pain (not trying to achieve bulging biceps that crush skulls)… Focus on the form of how you’re doing the push up rather than how many you can do. Tense your core as you do this exercise.

If you’re just starting out, try push ups with your knees on the ground. That takes off some weight from your arms and you can still benefit from this activity!

To explore in-depth:

The Perfect Push-Up

EXERCISE #9: Partial Crunches

AKA…

  • Half sit-ups
  • Chest lifts
  • Half crunches
  • The crunch that actually doesn’t screw up your tailbone

Why does it actually help?

It should be obvious that crunches strengthen our core muscles.

But here’s the thing: we’ve been taught that crunches ought to go all the way up, elbows should touch the knees.

And it’s easy to get injured while doing the full crunch (I’m sure you know someone from high school who couldn’t do sit-ups without groaning about their back problems).

The partial crunch actually shows you doing more and going further is not always better. This crunch just activates your core muscles — and gives you a more effective way to build strength — without damaging your body.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Find a spot where you can comfortably lie down on
  2. Lie flat on your back, with your knees bent and raised, feet touching the ground
  3. Cup your hands behind your ears
  4. Raise ONLY your upper and middle back off the ground: your lower back should remain grounded
  5. At this point, your core should feel tense
  6. SLOWLY ease your back down until your shoulders touch the ground. Head should be lifted at all times

Beware:

As with full crunches, be careful not to slam your body down after going up.

There’s a reason for putting your hands behind the ears and not your head. When you’re feeling tired from the first few crunches, you may subconsciously rely on using your arms to raise yourself up. Cupping your ears actually reduces the additional support from your arms.

As this is simply a strengthening exercise, form is more important than numbers. So don’t worry too much about hitting 20 or 40 or 60 or 100 crunches as your goal.

Muscles involved:

  • Your core (you’ll feel the workout more at the upper abdomen)
  • Middle to lower back

Recommendation:

Include a towel under your lower back if you feel your lower back may (or actually) hurts. This can reduce the strain from flat ground contact.

If you feel you want a more wholesome crunch workout, try reaching over to the opposite side (e.g. left arm reaches across right side of body as you go up). This works the obliques and not just the front abs.

EXERCISE #10: The Superman

Why does it actually help?

You’ll definitely feel the (good kind of) ache after doing this exercise… And this is effective for strengthening your lower back as well as improving your posture. After all, this exercise strengthens your back extensors (muscles that keep you upright while sitting or standing).

Even basketball teams in schools do this as part of their physical routine!

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Find a mat or a towel
  2. Lie flat facing the ground (if you use the towel, place it around your hip area), with your limbs extending outward
  3. When you’re ready, raise all four limbs up in the air
  4. Ease back down but don’t let your limbs touch the ground

Beware:

If you’ve had a really bad low back injury before, you may want to check with your doctor if this is recommended given your condition.

Also, avoid flinging your head up even more. Instead, aim to extend your head outward.

Muscles involved:

  • Back extensors (the center of your lower back)
  • Erector spinae
  • Glutes
  • Hamstring

Recommendation:

For starters, try about 10–15 repetitions. Of course, feel free to do more at your own pace.

Here a couple of variations of the superman pose (see above image):

  • Alternate limbs raised (e.g. left arm, right leg) with remaining limbs on the ground
  • Holding the raised pose instead of doing repetitions

EXERCISE #11: Bird Dog

AKA…

  • The table pose version of Superman exercises

Why does it actually help?

This exercise helps to stabilize the spine for everyday movements, while toning your butt and hamstrings too. So yes it’s one of those overall firming and toning exercises — if you do it enough.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Get into table pose (on your wrists and knees — hips over knees, shoulders over wrists)
  2. Tense your core muscles
  3. Raise your left arm and right leg slowly, until they are straightened and at the same level as your spine
  4. Hold the position
  5. Slowly bring the raised limbs down into table pose again
  6. Repeat steps 3 to 5 for your right arm and left leg

Beware:

If you have weak knees and wrists, please do this with some caution.

Muscles involved:

  • Upper back
  • Lower back
  • Core
  • Glutes
  • Shoulders
  • Hamstrings

Recommendation:

Hold the bird dog position for 10 seconds on each side for 3 reps.

EXERCISE #12: Side Plank

AKA…

  • Oh god don’t make me hold this for 3 minutes
  • It would really ache wayyy less if Jillian Michaels was standing over and screaming at you (she’s the Gordon Ramsay of fitness)

Why does it actually help?

Apart from being a core and back strengthening exercise, it could help you firm up your obliques too (buttt that’s not the intention of this guide)

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Lie on the floor, with ONLY one elbow grounded, and shoulder above elbow
  2. Raise the body off such that only your forearm and the side of your feet (same side) are touching the ground
  3. Tense your core, glutes, and leg muscles
  4. Tense your shoulders, making sure it pushes slightly away from the ground — don’t let the joint sink downward closer to your elbow
  5. Straighten your unsupported arm toward the sky, or place them on your hips
  6. Hold the position

Beware:

The wrong form may actually create worse back pain (e.g. letting your hips sag and maintaining the wrong position). So if you’re dropping or losing form, it might be better to recover first and try a second time later. Better safe than sorry, friend.

Muscles involved:

  • Core muscles
  • Middle to lower back
  • Shoulder (one side)
  • Whole legs

Recommendation:

Try and hold the side plank for up to 15 seconds if you’re just starting out. If you’d prefer as a beginner, use the side of your thighs/knees rather than the feet to prop your body up.

You can also strengthen your shoulder instead of your core if you raised and straightened your supporting arm.

EXERCISE #13: Prone Push-Ups

Why does it actually help?

If you’re already familiar with the sphinx pose and the cobra pose, this is actually a useful transition between the two poses

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Lie down on your tummy, legs stretched out
  2. Place your elbows shoulder-width apart, and look straight ahead — this is the elbow prone position
  3. Lift off your elbows and straighten your arms in order to arch your back
  4. Come back down slowly into the elbow prone position
  5. Repeat

Beware:

If your triceps aren’t used to doing exercise, start off gently.

Muscles involved:

  • Triceps
  • Forearms
  • Core
  • Lower back muscles

Recommendation:

If you’re not that familiar with push ups, aiming for 10 to 20 is good for this exercise.

If you wish to increase the intensity, raise your hips and knees off the ground as well when you adopt the elbow prone position. This will boost your tricep training too!

EXERCISE #14: Wall Squat

AKA…

  • Wall sit
  • Horse stance (unsupported)

Why does it actually help?

In addition to strengthening your thighs, glutes and lower back, you are encouraging your posture to straighten up as well. This is provided your neck and back actually keep close and against the wall.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Stand tall with your head, back, hips and heels against the wall
  2. Slowly, step further away from the wall, legs wider than shoulder-width
  3. Step away until your thighs are at a right angle (90 degrees)
  4. Hold the position
  5. At this point, only your head and butt are leaning against the wall

Muscles involved:

  • Thighs (quadriceps and hamstrings)
  • Glutes
  • Core muscles
  • Lower back

Recommendation:

If you’re comfortable with the wall sit, do this unsupported. Do the horse stance. Take a step further away from the wall, and straighten your back. Raise your hands to shoulder level, and feast in the thigh aches.

EXERCISE #15: Seated Double Knee Lifts

AKA…

  • When you’re restless in your chair, just do this

Why does it actually help?

Apart from strengthening your core, it’s actually easier to get blood to rush to your head without running around. Furthermore, you can do this exercise without moving from your current spot at work. Convenient, isn’t it?

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Place hands by your thighs, on the edge of the seat
  2. Place your knees together, feet on the ground
  3. Raise your knees up as high as you can to your chest BUT DON’T lean back (i.e. your spine should be perpendicular to the seat)
  4. Try not to grab the seat or place pressure on your hands… Unless you lose balance. This is to maximize the effectiveness and train your balance too.

Beware:

Just make sure you have space to raise your knees, and not hit the underside of your desk. Ouch.

Muscles involved:

  • Abdominal muscles
  • Lower back

Recommendation:

Take a break every hour and do this exercise. Of course, walk around every once in a while too after doing this. Your butt needs a break too.

[LOWER BACK STRETCHES]

EXERCISE #16: Downward Dog

AKA…

  • Downward-facing dog
  • Adho mukha shvanasana
  • Downward dog
  • Down dog

Why does it actually help?

The downward dog helps to decompress the spine when the position is done right.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Place your hands and knees on the ground: shoulders above wrists and hips above knees. You’re on all four limbs? Good.
  2. Lift your knees off and straighten your legs (without lifting your feet off the ground).
  3. As you do step 2, bring your ears next to your shoulders.
  4. Your shoulders should be supporting your weight as you resist the ground.
  5. Keep your spine as straight as possible.
  6. Your final position should create a triangle between you and the ground.
  7. TIP: one way to keep your lower spine straight is to bring your belly button as close as you can to your thighs

Beware:

Don’t try to achieve the perfect form if you can’t yet. The idea here is to help your spine relax, so it’s fine if your legs can’t straighten fully. Remember: spine, spine, spine.

Umm. Also — I have no nice way of putting this across — your arms are going to ache.

Muscles involved:

  • Deep abdominal muscles
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Shoulder muscle group

Recommendation:

1 to 3 minutes in the pose. Do this anywhere with sufficient space (and isn’t obstructive)! Well, try not to do this in the corridor at your workplace.

To explore in-depth:

The Proper Way to do a Downward Dog

Downward Dog

EXERCISE #17: Cat and Cow Pose

AKA…

  • Marjariasana
  • Cat and camel pose

Note: doesn’t matter which animal we’re talking about — the point here is to learn the exercise :)

Why does it actually help?

This exercise actually improves:

  1. The flexibility of your neck, back and spine.
  2. The strength of your core and back muscles

You can see how one pose is effective at getting you multiple physical benefits… So let’s get down to it

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Get on your fours (hands and knees) — shoulders over wrists, hips over knees
  2. Let your spine sink in (chest closer to the floor), while breathing in: apparently this is how a cow eats
  3. Hold the position
  4. Now arch your back away from the ground while breathing out: this is like a cat arching up to look bigger
  5. In relation to the ground, your spine is concave at step 2, and convex at step 4

Beware:

You may want to do this gently and slowly — say, 5 seconds to slowly transit between the two bends

Muscles involved:

  • The neck
  • Entire back
  • Core muscle group

Recommendation:

Find an open space (probably in your bedroom) to do this exercise. Stretch often if needed. If your knees hurt — that’s when a yoga mat or even a towel comes in handy!

EXERCISE #18: Child’s Pose

AKA…

  • Balasana

Why does it actually help?

Child’s pose is actually a resting pose that derived from yoga. And it relaxes the entire body — especially from the torso and above.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Kneel down:
  2. Knees are shoulder width apart
  3. Both your feet soles are facing away from the ground (that means your toes aren’t supporting your weight)
  4. Bring your butt down to your heels
  5. Bring your forehead to the floor (or as close as you can get)
  6. Let your belly touch or come close to your thighs
  7. Your arms can either:
  8. Rest by the side, relaxed OR
  9. Stretch forward (as far away from your feet as possible)

Beware:

If your knees hurt, it would be a great idea to support yourself with a thick towel (or fold up a thin one). Place the towel under your knees and ankles, so that they don’t take unnecessary pain.

Muscles involved:

  • Lower back
  • Glutes (the butt area)
  • Lats (AKA the back muscles known as wings) — if you’re stretching forward in step 5
  • Ankle zone

Recommendation:

Stay in the pose for 1–3 minutes, and keep the body stretched!

To explore in-depth:

How to do a Child’s Pose

EXERCISE #19: Thread the Needle

Why does it actually help?

It’s a position that relaxes the body while letting you stretch different muscle groups simultaneously — your shoulders, upper back, and neck. Not only is it effective for upper body stretches, it’s quite simple (like the child’s pose).

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Get into the table pose — that’s the one where you’re on all fours… Shoulders over wrists, hips over knees
  2. Notice how your left arm and knee forms a gap or a hole: this is where your right arm (needle) will go through and thread
  3. Plant your right shoulder and right side of your head on the ground as your arm goes through the hole
  4. Raise your left arm for the ceiling
  5. Reach you your right arm until you feel a stretch
  6. Come back up into the table pose and repeat steps 2 to 5 for your left arm

Beware:

Similar to the child’s pose, your knees and ankles may feel some pain from heavy contact with the ground. Either use a yoga mat or place a thick towel under your knees and ankles to counter the effect.

Muscles involved:

  • Shoulders
  • Upper back
  • Neck

Recommendation:

For each arm, hold about 1 to 3 minutes.

EXERCISE #20: Rabbit’s Pose

AKA…

  • Sasangasana

Why does it actually help?

It’s another exercise that helps to decompress the spine, while relieving tension stuck in your neck, shoulders, and back

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Get into a kneeling position, with soles (and toes) facing away from the ground: ankles and knees should be supporting your weight
  2. Bring your chest and belly to your thighs, with head close to but not touching the ground yet
  3. You know where the top of your head is? The area where your teachers took height from? Bring that part into contact with the ground
  4. Let your hands reach and grab for your heels
  5. Breathe in the position
  6. Get back up onto your knees when you’re done

Beware:

By right, your head shouldn’t be feeling too much pressure from contact. If it does, use your arms to reach further back at your toes instead of your heels.

Muscles involved:

  • Trapezius (neck to middle back)
  • Shoulders
  • Arms (see below recommendation)

Recommendation:

If you want to stretch your shoulders and arms even further, don’t reach for your heels. Interlace your fingers and let your palms face the sky or ceiling.

To explore in-depth:

How to do a Rabbit Pose

EXERCISE #21: Legs Up The Wall

AKA…

  • The name is as literal as it can get… Maybe we can call it The Floor L-Sit
  • Inverted lake
  • Viparita Karani

Why does it actually help?

The pose improves your blood circulation, on top of stretching the back of your neck and your chest area. And most importantly, it relieves the lower back pain that may have brought you here in the first place.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Get a pillow (or roll up a towel/blanket until it’s as thick as your fist)
  2. Find a wall!
  3. Place the pillow about one hand away from the wall
  4. As you place your butt on the pillow, lie your upper body on the ground
  5. Adjust your hips and butt such that the back of your thighs comes into contact with the wall
  6. Your legs should straighten and lean against the wall
  7. Your tailbone should be dropping into the gap between the pillow and the wall

Beware:

If you have a sensitive lower back, it’s best to do the exercise with a pillow.

You can choose to do this without the pillow. But it may not give the lower back relief as much as you want it to be. This variation can still be as effective for the purposes of improving blood flow.

Muscles involved:

  • The lower back
  • Thighs
  • Back of the neck (upper trapezius)

To explore in-depth:

How to Do Legs Up The Wall Pose

EXERCISE #22: Happy Baby

AKA…

  • Ananda Balasana
  • Probably the most fun-looking exercise on this list

Why does it actually help?

Besides actually stretching out your groin and extending your spine, you get to calm your mind in this relaxing position.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Lie on your back (head and shoulders all the way to your tailbone)
  2. Raise your legs and let them hover above your torso
  3. Spread your legs slightly wider than your shoulder width, soles facing skyward
  4. Grab the outer part of your soles with your hands
  5. Create some resistance by
  6. Pushing your feet upward
  7. Pulling your hands downward
  8. Take deep breaths in this position

Beware:

You don’t need to bring your legs far above your head. The emphasis will be on feeling the stretch itself.

Muscles involved:

  • Inner groin
  • Entire back

Recommendation:

If you cannot grab your soles, wrap and loop a towel around your soles by grabbing on to the towel instead.

EXERCISE #23: Standing Lower Back Stretch

AKA…

  • Bending over backwards

Why does it actually help?

Well you feel good from the release in tension — and I’m not just talking about your lower back. Your whole upper body just feels great and soothed (as if your body is yawning)… And it’s something even I can’t explain.

Don’t believe me?

Try this stretch now (it’s one of the few exercises here that you can do even at work or in public — and people will forgive you because they know it’s just that intuitively good).

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Stand straight, and place palms behind your hips
  2. Lean your back slowly while keeping your head aligned with your spine, pushing your hips forward to counterbalance
  3. Arch your spine until you start to see the ceiling (or even the people behind)
  4. Slowly return to the standing position

Beware:

Don’t whip your body back up! You don’t want to be doing more damage than your body has already.

Muscles involved:

  • Abdominal muscles
  • Lower back
  • Pectoralis major and minor

Recommendation:

Doing this every morning for 30 seconds sounds like a great idea. Yeah, I mean right out of bed. Furthermore, this exercise is really easy to follow through.

EXERCISE #24: Supine Spinal Twist

AKA…

  • Reclined spinal twist
  • Supta Matsyendrasana
  • Knee rolls

Why does it actually help?

Because it sounds like a cool wrestling finisher move… And you can tell people at a cocktail party about how you practice it every single day.

You could achieve the dream of being like your favourite half-naked chiropractor Chris.

Okay, the spinal twist brings relief in more than one way. After all, it is a slow, relaxed exercise. You get to lengthen and straighten your spine, as well as calm and soothe the mind.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Lie flat on your back
  2. Raise your legs to the extent that your hips are slightly above the ground
  3. Bend your legs such that they form a 90 degree angle, knees stuck together
  4. Spread your arms flat and wide, fingers and palms pressed onto the floor
  5. Slowly and gently twist your hips to the right side. The side of your right knee will be close to, if not touching, the ground
  6. If your left shoulder lifts off, that’s fine. Do keep both shoulders as flat (to the ground) as possible.
  7. Hold and take deep breaths
  8. Slowly recover and raise your hips and knees to face skyward
  9. Repeat steps 5 to 7 for your left side

Beware:

Avoiding jamming and thrusting your knees into the floor. Remember, it’s meant to be slow. Faster isn’t always better when it comes to therapeutic exercises :)

Muscles involved:

  • Hips
  • Glutes
  • Thighs
  • Lower back

Recommendation:

If your knees can’t touch the floor but you’d like to get used to holding the position, here’s what to do. Place a couple of pillows on each side where your knee can rest on. That way, you can lie comfortably in the supine spinal twist position.

You may also do this exercise with only one leg going across (e.g. if you’re twisting to the left, your right leg will be up and your left leg will be in contact with the floor)

EXERCISE #25: Standing Hamstring Stretch

Why does it actually help?

It’s also one of the recommended exercises for people with sciatica. When stretched via the proper method, it can ease the nerve irritation.

But even if you don’t have sciatica, you still benefit as much from a proper hamstring stretch.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Find a small elevated step that’s about a foot high. If there’s none around you, that’s fine, just stick one of your legs out
  2. Straighten the leg that is in front of you
  3. Lower your chest and belly down to your thighs — you want to get close to the knee in front of you
  4. Hold the position
  5. Recover by slowly curling your lower, then middle, then upper spine up until your head is facing upright

Beware:

You would want to avoid curling your lower spine at step 3: that’s why I’m emphasizing the chest and belly touching the thighs. Notice how there’s no mention of using your head to reach your knees. That “encourages” the lower spine (lumbar) to curve in a way where the lower (lumbar) spine experiences discomfort and maybe get injured.

Muscles involved:

  • Hamstring (a tight hamstring is usually associated with low back pain)

Recommendation:

You can do this exercise while sitting down on your chair:

  • Ensure both feet are grounded. Instead of straightening the leg (that you want to stretch) first, bring your chest and stomach close to your thighs.
  • From there, slowly lengthen and straighten out one of your legs.

This way, the whole spine is locked in its straightened position and you can still do the hamstring stretch without worrying.

To explore in-depth:

Hamstring Stretch Technique

EXERCISE #26: Supine Hamstring Stretch

AKA…

  • Towel hamstring stretch (depends on whether you’d like to use the towel)

Why does it actually help?

This is the version of the hamstring stretch that is easier to stretch the right way — mainly because your spine is already straight when you lie down on the floor. Of course, whether you are going to actually lie on the floor is another issue.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Lie flat on your back, with the leg you want to stretch bent and close to you (other leg is straight and flat on the ground)
  2. Bring the bent leg up, until your knee is facing the sky (at least perpendicular to your lying body)
  3. Use both hands to grab and hold the underside of your thigh
  4. Slowly straighten the raised leg. Your hamstring should feel the stretch
  5. Hold and release when done
  6. Repeat step 1 to 4 for the other leg

Beware:

Don’t rush to bring your legs closer to your chest. Slow and steady is good.

Even though it is harder to do so, you may want to take note and ensure that your spine is flat — NOT CURVED — against the ground even after raising your leg up in the air

Muscles involved:

  • Hamstring

Recommendation:

If you have a towel, belt or strap, wrap and loop it around the sole of your upward foot. Hook the towel while your stretching leg is still bent and tucked. From there, slowly straighten your leg until you feel the stretch nice and good.

EXERCISE #27: Pigeon Pose

Why does it actually help?

The pigeon pose is actually one of those exercises known as a “hip opener”. And hip opening exercises actually help to relieve tension in the lower back too.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Sit with one leg in front of you, and the other extended and straightened behind you
  2. The leg in front of you should be bent (as if you were sitting cross-legged) — that means the outer side of your calf and ankle comes into contact with the ground
  3. Straighten your back, with your chest up and forward
  4. You may use your arms to support you by placing them next to your knee
  5. Hold the position
  6. You should feel your glutes and part of your lower back stretching

Beware:

If you have weak knees and/or a tight thigh, you may want to reduce tension placed on your front knee. To do so, lift your butt off the ground, so you’re elevated. If it still hurts, then please, please, please — don’t try this and consult your doc instead.

Muscles involved:

  • Hip muscle groups (flexors, rotators)
  • Groin area
  • Chest and shoulders (if you’re doing the recommendation below)

Recommendation:

If you want to extend the stretch, arch your back such that your head faces the ceiling. This slight variation can give your upper body a fuller and more vigorous stretch!

To explore in-depth:

How to do the one-legged king pigeon pose

EXERCISE #28: Sphinx Pose

AKA…

  • The gentler version of the cobra pose
  • Salamba Bhujangasana

Why does it actually help?

The sphinx is one good exercise to introduce back bending if you’ve never done it much. It strengthens and stretches parts of the body at the same time, but at a more comfortable rate.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Lie flat on your stomach
  2. Bring your forearms next to you, wrists and palms downward. Keep your elbows by your ribs.
  3. Arch your upper back, while lifting your upper arms away from the ground
  4. Hold the position… There you have it, the sphinx pose!

Beware:

If you have severe spinal or back injuries, take extra caution in approaching this exercise.

Muscles involved:

  • Upper back
  • Upper core muscles
  • Shoulders
  • Triceps

Recommendation:

Hold the position for 3 minutes. If you’re ready to take this to the next level, see the cobra pose.

EXERCISE #29: Cobra Pose

AKA…

  • The straight arm-ed, more intense version of the Sphinx
  • Bhujangasana

Why does it actually help?

This is a more wholesome version of the Sphinx — that means more intensity, and more muscle groups being activated here. It’s both a stretching and strengthening exercise. Also, the cobra lengthens the spine as you stretch.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Lie flat on your stomach
  2. Place hands by your chest, palms facing down
  3. Raise and straighten your arms, while arching your back. Your hips, thighs and feet (soles facing sky) are in firm contact with the ground.
  4. Finally, extend your neck to face the ceiling and stretch it too
  5. Hold the position
  6. To recover, either lie back down so you can repeat the stretch… Or raise your hips up slowly to table pose to exit and get up.

Beware:

If you have severe spinal or back injuries, take extra caution in approaching this exercise. This is even more so for the cobra pose than the sphinx.

Also, avoid a harsh exit from the pose as doing so may hurt yourself.

Muscles involved:

Stretched:

  • Abdominal muscles
  • Front of hips
  • Front of neck

Strengthened:

  • Lower back
  • Glutes

Recommendation:

Hold the position for 2–3 minutes. If you would like to increase the strengthening exercise, lift your thighs and knees off the ground. Ta-da, that’s the upward dog pose for you.

To explore in-depth:

Sphinx, Cobra and Upward Facing Dog

EXERCISE #30: Knee to Chest

AKA…

  • Eye of the needle
  • Sucirandrasana
  • “There’s a seated version for this too but unfortunately we don’t have a cool name for this yet”

Why does it actually help?

The exercise reduces stiffness in your outer thighs, and gets a lot of that blood in you flowing through your legs. For some, it increases mobility — meaning you’re more able to move around without feeling like a wooden block. Or feeling as if someone is pulling tied strings to you as you walk.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Lie flat on your back
  2. With one leg bent (knee raised), cross over the other leg to form a figure 4 with both legs
  3. See how there’s a hole formed between your legs? Put one hand through it and the other hand on the outer side of the grounded leg
  4. Use both hands to grab the thigh of the grounded leg
  5. Use both hands to raise and pull the legs toward your chest
  6. Hold the position and stretch
  7. To stretch the other leg, repeat steps 2 to 6 for the other side

Muscles involved:

  • Glutes
  • Lower back

Recommendation:

Hold each side for 30 seconds to 1 minute. If you wish to do this at work, cross one leg on top of the other. Then bring your chest and belly close to your thighs, keeping your back straight. Ta-da, another simple exercise to be done anywhere!

EXERCISE #31: Pelvic Tilt

AKA…

  • Yoga bridge
  • The less intense version of the fully extended bridge

Why does it actually help?

This exercise is simpler and easier to do than the full bridge (listed in this post as well). The benefits are similar, but you can start off with this if you’re not so keen on trying advanced back bend exercises.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Lie flat on the floor, feet tucked near the butt and thighs parallel to each other
  2. Slowly raise your hips up, lifting your thighs and lower back gradually, until your upper back is slightly above the ground
  3. At this point, only your feet, neck and back of head are in firm contact with the ground
  4. As your hands are free, you can use them to
  5. Support your lower back (palms pressing upward, elbows on the ground)
  6. Otherwise, interlace your fingers and place your arms under your hips
  7. Hold the position
  8. Slowly return back to the ground, unrolling your spine. Your butt should be the last to land gently

Muscles involved:

  • Thighs
  • Glutes
  • Lower back extenders
  • Core

Recommendation:

If you’re ready to try something more intense, see the other bridge exercise below. It’s distinctly different from this one.

EXERCISE #32: Bridge

AKA…

  • Wheel (different name in yoga)
  • Crab

Why does it actually help?

This is probably one of the most vigorous exercises in this list (unless you’re a yoga practitioner, breakdancer, or gymnast).

The bridge utilizes the whole body to create the backbend stretch. This is how holistic and effective the exercise is. It may look difficult but that’s only because the ideal form is what you see on images and YouTube.

In truth, as long as you feel a stretch in your whole back, core, and chest, that’s when you know the stretch exercise works for you.

Steps for this back pain exercise:

  1. Lie flat on the ground, legs bend close to the butt and parallel to each other
  2. Place your hands next to your head, finger tips pointing “downward” toward your feet
  3. Slowly raise your hips up until your head, hands, and feet are the only parts touching the ground
  4. At this point, your head should be looking straight ahead, across the room (or wherever you’re at)
  5. If you can push further, raise your head off the ground by straightening your arms

Beware:

If you aren’t used to doing the bridge, or are not physically adept for it, you may want to try the yoga version of the bridge (not the wheel — it’s a similar but separate exercise).

The yoga bridge does not involve pushing your hands up. Instead, you can raise your hips until your feet, neck, and head are on the ground.

Muscles involved:

  • Hamstrings
  • Lower back extenders (erector spinae)
  • Glutes
  • Shoulders
  • Upper back
  • Abdominal muscles

Recommendation:

Hold the bridge for 30 seconds to 1 minute. For the extra stretch, bring your chest further away from your legs (i.e. move it “upwards”). Doing so will help you push out your chest and head beyond your arms.

If You Are Lost…

Fret not.

We know, 32 exercises is a lot to choose from. That’s why we’ve prepared a checklist of recommended exercises just for you right here.

The checklist doesn’t just tell you which exercises to do, but it also considers where and when you feel your back pain. Without giving away too much, try the recommendations in the checklist yourself!

(Also, I timed myself and it only took 2 minutes 7 seconds to do one of the sets. So we can’t say that taking care of your back is time consuming!)

Before You Go…

Know that you don’t have to try every single exercise.

Do what you feel you’re comfortable with, because ultimately this is for nobody’s benefit but yours.

Don’t worry if you only are able to do it 1–2 times a week, be it at work or at home. Because that beats not doing something for yourself. Just remember the tortoise and the hare… Slow and steady won the race.

Which of the exercises is your favourite, and how well did it work for you? Drop a comment so we know it’s helped you!


Karlton Pang is the Content Guy for AiraWear, the smart massage jacket that provides back pain relief anytime, anywhere you want. Click here to find out more about the jacket, and where you can get it!

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