How to make sure exercise isn't worsening your back pain

BSc in Health Studies, Dip.Nut
Ask Earle

12 March 2021

Can you still exercise with back pain?

If you often suffer from back pain you may find that exercise makes it worse, which makes it easy to simply avoid exercising altogether. Some people also find that their back pain only occurs when they exercise. In most cases, a small amount of exercise will help to stretch and strengthen the back muscles and reduce back pain but it's important that you find a way to exercise without causing pain.

When people experience heightened back pain as a result of exercise, it is usually because they are doing the wrong types of exercise or simply over-exercising. Here we advise on how to adjust your exercise regime to be a bit gentler on your back and give some tips on how to relieve backache caused by exercise.

What exercises should you not do with back pain?

If you are experiencing back pain or know that you are prone to back pain, here is some advice about what forms of exercise you should not do:


The jolting and bouncing that accompanies running can make back pain worse. A brisk walk will likely be more beneficial, however, if you don't want to give up running, instead make sure that you have a good posture while doing so – no slouching! Keep your shoulders back and your head up, and make sure you have a good pair of shock-absorbing running shoes.

Heavy weight lifting

Avoid lifting heavy weights, as the back muscles are involved in most aspects of weight lifting and this will put them under undue strain. If you can't give up the weights, at least reduce them until your back has recovered. Also, make sure to lift properly by bending your knees not your back, and invest in a good weight lifting belt to support your back.

High-intensity workouts

Try to avoid high-intensity, over-strenuous exercise. That class named 'body attack' may not be the best idea for someone with a vulnerable back. Steady, controlled exercise will be more beneficial than exercises that have you jumping between sprinting, press-ups, push-ups and star jumps for half an hour!

How can I exercise with a bad back?

When it comes to back pain and exercise, what's important to remember is that your body's response to exercise is a good indicator of whether it is helping or not, so listen to it! If jogging is causing you excruciating pain, then stop. If it makes your back feel better, don't stop just because I suggested it might not be good for you!

You might need to try a few things before you find something that works for you.
As a general rule, switching to low-impact sports is a good idea if you have back pain. A great exercise for back pain is swimming because the water supports your joints and your back to help you exercise more comfortably. Another great low-impact exercise is yoga. A lot of yoga sessions can be specially tailored to help back pain by stretching the muscles in and around the back. If you're going to a class you may wish to notify the instructor of your bad back so that they can let you know which poses to skip, or how to adjust them to make them more comfortable.

And remember - always warm up and stretch before exercise, and cool down and stretch after exercise. This helps to reduce the risk of injury, strained muscles and stiff muscles.

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Dealing with back pain

As well as trying to keep your body moving, a few home remedies can help to relieve back pain.

Apply a hot or cold compress

Use a hot or cold compress, depending on what kind of back pain yours is. With an injury to the back, for example, we would tend to apply ice. Heat, on the other hand, helps with more general, long-term back pain. Wrap an ice pack or hot water bottle in a towel and apply to the affected area for soothing relief.

Get stretching

Stretch to gently relieve stiffness. With your feet hip-width apart, gently twist your torso to look behind you. Don't force it – just twist until you feel it stretching. You could also try bending your knees a little and reaching down towards the ground – adjust the bend in your knees until you feel a nice stretch. For more ideas of exercises for back pain, follow this link.

Take a bath

Run a warm bath with your choice of bubble bath or bath soak. Lavender is great for muscle aches and pains, so try adding a little lavender essential oil to your bath, or find a bath soak that contains lavender

Try Arnica

Use arnica gel such as Atrogel to soothe the pain. Just rub it on the affected area to feel it soothe pain, stiffness and swelling. This is great both for pain that appears sporadically and more chronic pain

Use Devil's Claw

Devil's Claw will be useful at relieving more long-term back, joint and muscle pain. It is most effective when taken regularly, so will not be useful for back pain that only lasts a day or two.

Seek additional help

If your back pain is severe, make an appointment to see your GP or physiotherapist as they will be able to determine the cause of your pain: it may be a case of bad posture, a slightly misaligned spine, a slipped disc or simply over-exercising. It's always best to get it checked out to be sure.

For more information on back pain, the different types, causes and treatments, head over to A.Vogel Talks Back Pain.


Originally published 14 July 2016

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