Back Pain Exercises and Intervertebral Disc Information

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Lower Back Pain Exercises

Lower back pain exercises can help improve back pain by strengthening the core muscles which support the spine.

Lower back pain exercises that can help reduce or prevent pain include,

back pain exercisesPlanks help build up the core. They can be done without special equipment and can be modified by resting on your knees rather than your feet. see image

Partial crunches are better than sit-ups which put a strain on your back, increasing lower back pain.

Knee to chest exercises can be done by keeping one leg on the floor with the knee bent, the other leg bends at the knee and is brought up to the chest.

Bridging helps build up core muscles-see image

Wall sits help build up core muscles as well as muscles in the legs. see image

Lower back rotational stretches can be done on a chair or floor.

Press up back extensions or swan yoga pose see image

Cat stretch stretches the abdominal and back muscles.

Bird dog-Get down on your hands and knees and lift one leg behind you

Shoulder blade squeeze

Lower back pain exercises to avoid

Some exercises will place more strain on your lower back and should be avoided.

Sit-ups place a strain on the discs in your lower back.

Standing toe touches can increase lower back pain. Consider placing a leg up on a chair and lean over to touch your toes, this will take some of the strain off your back.

Leg lifts using both legs places a lot of strain on the back, consider using only one leg at a time.

Lower back pain exercises that can help improve intervertebral discs

We know that exercise can help increase muscle strength which can help support the back. It has been unclear up until now whether or not exercise can help build up the intervertebral discs.

A recent article published in Scientific Reports showed that some exercises such as running are associated with intravertebral disc growth and composition changes.

What are intravertebral discs?

The lower back includes five lumbar vertebrae, referred to as L1-L5. The spaces between the vertebrae are lined by rubbery pads called intervertebral discs that act like shock absorbers throughout the spine to cushion the bones as the body moves.

According to lead researcher, Associate Professor Daniel Belavy from Deakin University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), “Running exercises strengthens the intervertebral disc.”

This study is the first in humans to show that exercise can benefit the intervertebral discs.

Walking may also give the same results to the discs as running. “Our findings showed no difference between joggers and long-distance runners and, in fact, indicated that walking might be enough.” said the lead researcher.

Sitting for too long can increase back pain

Professor Belavy suggested avoidance of a sedentary lifestyle. “It’s also important to reduce the amount of time spent in static postures, such as sitting or even standing still.

For people who sit all day, go for that walk when you can and use the stairs as much as possible. It is easy to work more exercise into your day if you make a point to do so.


Daniel L. Belavý et al. Running exercise strengthens the intervertebral disc, Scientific Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1038/srep45975

Disc disease is a common cause of back pain.

Disc degeneration is one of the main causes of chronic low back pain and the pain often persists despite surgery.

Why does disc disease lead to low back pain?

The rubbery discs lose their integrity as a normal process of aging.

Normally, intervertebral discs provide height and allow for bending and flexion of the lower back. As the discs deteriorate, they lose their cushioning ability.

Discs deteriorate with age, they lose their ability to cushion.

Herniated or ruptured discs can occur when the intervertebral discs become compressed and bulge which causes low back pain.

How common is low back pain?

According to the World Health Organization,

“The lifetime prevalence of non-specific (common) low back pain is estimated at 60% to 70% in industrialized countries (one-year prevalence 15% to 45%, adult incidence 5% per year).”

“Prevalence increases and peaks between the ages of 35 and 55.”

The 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study “estimated that low back pain is among the top 10 diseases and injuries worldwide.

Data from 2008 found, “that the annual cost of pain was greater than the annual costs in 2010 dollars of heart disease ($309 billion), cancer ($243 billion), and diabetes ($188 billion) and nearly 30 percent higher than the combined cost of cancer and diabetes.”

What are the risk factors for back pain?

Older age will increase the risk of back pain. As we get older our discs lose fluid and the ability to cushion. The vertebrae in our back also thin which increases the risk of fracture. These fractures are referred to as vertebral compression fractures.

Sedentary life increases the risk of back pain as the back and abdominal muscles are not able to properly support the spine.

Posture can increase back pain. Make an effort to stand up straight. If your job requires sitting ensure you have good lower back support and are not straining to view the monitor.

Obesity increases the risk of back pain, the extra weight adds more strain on your back.

Depression increases the risk of back pain. The reason for this is unknown but may be due to increased sensitivity to pain.

Lifting heavy objects increases the risk of back injury. When lifting an object consider bending your knees Your knees rather than leaning over to pick up a heavy object. Try not to twist when you are lifting. Different occupations will increase your risk of back pain as you will have to lift heavy objects.

Sleeping on a mattress with weak support will increase the risk of back pain.

The use of back support bands has not been shown to make a difference. According to the National Institute of Health, “Multiple studies have determined that the use of lumbar supports provides no benefit in terms of the prevention and treatment of back pain.”

Lower back pain exercises

According to the NIH,

Evidence supports short- and long-term benefits of yoga to ease chronic low back pain.”

What can be done to decrease the incidence of back pain?

Public health awareness can help reduce lower back pain.

We know that exercising can help strengthen the back muscles which reduce the risk of injury.

An effort should be made to reduce a sedentary lifestyle and engage in an exercise program that is individualized to your activity level.

What do you think about lower back pain exercises?


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About Sharon T McLaughlin MD FACS 238 Articles
I am a physician who is interested in providing health information and health tips so that we may live healthy lives.


  1. I was diagnosed with Scoliosis at a very young age and was taught many different back exercises to do throughout my life! And yes sitting for to long is not good thing for me nor for anyone for that matter. When I put in long days here at my computer I do use my bar as a standing desk to get my but off this chair LOL

    Great share my friend
    Chery :))

  2. Hi Sharon,

    These are wonderful exercises to relive lower back pain, It sure beats popping a pill lol. My husband had a bout with it and he went to physical therapy whereby the exercises were very similar to the ones you have shared. We found the cause and it was our mattress. Since we purchased a new posture pedic one, and he had done his bout in PT, back pain was gone!


  3. These look like great exercises! I had no idea that leaning over and touching my toes could increase back pain either (I do that all the time to try to relieve it, but maybe it’s doing more harm than good). Thanks for sharing this and so many other informative articles!

  4. Being a mom of three little ones has put such strain on my back. I find lying on the floor with my legs on a wall the best way to relieve pressure in the short term and yoga for the long term. Great post! -Alyson

  5. Great post, thank you. I have never suffered with back pain but just recently am finding I have lower back pain. I’m very glad to find these exercises and will start on them straight away. Also good to read what not to do, I do some of the things I should not be doing!!

  6. Hi Dr. Sharon,

    Interesting facts about the causes and treatment of back pain. Good genes, regular exercise, healthy diets, hydration and adequate rest seems the best preventive measures.

    When I have to lift, I try to remember to stretch first and bend from the knees! Thanks, Edward

  7. I too have scoliosis which I blame on carrying really heavy satchels (before the days of backpacks) on one shoulder. I injured my back carrying something heavy at age 18 and suffered some degree of back pain for many years after. I’d exercise to loosen stiff muscles when I was able but at times the pain was excruciating. (Although early on the medical advice was just to lay down and rest) I finally found relief after my 3rd child was born. I suppose the muscles loosened sufficiently to get things back in place? I haven’t had problems since and considering I was still picking up and carrying my son when he was 7 (he has a disability) and I’m only 5’2″ it seems like a miracle.

  8. Hi Dr. McLaughlin,
    As a former professor of health and physical education, I certainly had experienced my own share of severe back problems. One time I was literally lying on the floor and could not get up. That was one time I was thrilled to get to the ER and take medication.
    However, after that I took Pilates sessions, private sessions with a highly advanced teacher who pinpointed the specific vertebrae as I moved. I also received and trained in Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, Craniosacral, Shiatsu, Reflexology and many others including massage therapy. So I learned about alignment and posture and movement. When something hurts in my body, I have all sorts of magnetic braces and jewelry and power strips, etc., to ease the pain and help my body to come back to it’s natural balance.
    So many people do not have this understanding and take a pill just to feel better – but the symptoms remain suppressed and the injury does not easily heal.

    Dr. Erica

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