exercise modifications for back pain

exercise modifications for back painIt’s no secret that exercise is important for avoiding back pain. Being physically active helps strengthen your muscles which supports your spine as well as other important structures in the body. It’s also important to note that if you are already suffering from back pain, some exercise and light movement is beneficially to your recovery. The key is making sure the exercises you perform, don’t cause further injury or worsen your condition.

Here are six exercises to avoid if you suffer from back pain and some modifications to try instead.

  1. Avoid conventional sit-ups.
    Half crunches – lay on your back with your knees bent and hands across your chest, lift your shoulder only six inches off the ground.
    Sit-backs – begin seated with your knees bent and arms across your chest, lean back about 20 degrees and then tighten your abs and return to your starting seated position.
  1. Avoid deadlifts.
    Leg presses on a machine – Sit on the leg press machine with your back and head resting comfortably against the padded support. Your legs should form a 90-degree angle at the knees and your knees should also be in line over your heels. As you press up, extending your legs, make sure you keep your feet straight and planted on the foot plate about hips distance apart. You should extend in slow controlled motion. Pause at the top, without locking your knees, then slowly return to the starting position by gradually bending at the knees.
    Wall sits – Starting in a standing position, put your back against a wall with your feet shoulder width apart. Your feet should be about two feet away from the wall. Engaging your abdominal muscles, and keeping your back flat against the wall, slowly slide your back down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Make sure that your knees are directly over your ankles. Hold this position for 20 to 60 seconds, then slowly slide back up the wall to a standing position. Rest and repeat.
    Lunges – Starting from a standing position with your upper body straight, shoulders back and relaxed, look straight ahead and engage your core. Then, step forward with one leg, lowering your hips until both knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle. Your front knee should be directly above your ankle and your back knee should not touch the floor. Keeping your weight in your heels, push back up to your starting position and repeat on the other side.
  1. Avoid burpees.
    High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)– every 10 to 15 minutes during your exercise routine perform high intensity cardio on an elliptical or treadmill for 2-3 minutes to get your heart rate up.
  1. Avoid toe touches as a hamstring stretch.
    Modification: Lay on your back, while holding the ends of a towel in each hand, loop the towel under your foot and gently raise your legs up one at a time to stretch your hamstrings.
  1. Avoid back extensions (i.e. Roman chair).
    Modification: Lie face down on a large exercise ball with your feet either on the ground, or up against a wall. Place your hands behind your head and lift your torso upward by activating your glutes and hamstrings until your back forms a straight line parallel to the ground. Pause for one moment, then slowly lower back down to the starting position.
  1. Avoid cycling in the forward position.
    Modifications: Recumbent cyclers or elliptical


David J. BenEliyahu, DC, DAAPM, DABCSP is the Administrative Director of the Back & Neck Pain Center at Mather Hospital.