4 Exercises to Avoid If You Have Back Pain (and what to do instead)

Date:  October 4, 2017


4 Exercises to Avoid If You Have Back Pain (and what to do instead)

Sometimes, it’s just a simple thing…until it isn’t.

You’ve been told exercise is good to prevent/treat back pain, but did you know that some exercises are not recommended if you have a history of back pain? This is because some exercises put too much demand on your back.

Here are some examples of what exercises you could avoid, and some recommended alternatives:

1) AVOID: Superman back extensions
In this exercise, you begin by lying face down, simultaneously lift your arms and legs off the ground and hold that position. Most people experience quite a bit of discomfort with this exercise, and research has shown that it creates the highest amount of stress to the joints of the low back.1

The bird-dog exercise is commonly recommended to strengthen and stabilize your low back without overloading your spine. Start on your hands and knees, engage your stomach muscles. Lift and extend one leg behind you to hip level without tilting your pelvis. Raise and extend the opposite arm to shoulder level. Hold, then return to starting position. Repeat 8–12 times, then switch to the opposite leg and arm. Be careful not to let your low back sag during this exercise.

2) AVOID: Sit-ups
Although sit-ups may strengthen the abdominal muscles, it may also put a lot of pressure on your spine.

TRY INSTEAD: Partial Crunches
Partial crunches are better at isolating your abdominal muscles without risking injury to the low back. Lie on your back with both knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Put your hands behind your neck, tighten your abdominal muscles and raise your shoulders off the floor, being careful not to use your arms to pull your neck off the floor. Hold, and slowly lower your shoulders back down. Repeat 15 times, or as recommended by your exercise plan.

3) AVOID: Double leg raises
Having a strong core is a key component of managing back pain. Double leg raises (lifting both legs together while lying on your back) puts a lot of demand on your low back.

TRY INSTEAD: Single leg raises
While lying on your back, bend one knee with your foot flat on the ground and keep the other leg straight. Slowly lift the straight leg up and hold. Lower your leg slowly. Repeat 10 times (or as recommended by your exercise plan) and repeat with the other leg. Remember to keep your back flat on the floor the entire duration of the exercise.

4) AVOID: Standing toe touches
Stretching is important to prevent injury and reduce muscle soreness after working out. It is quite common to have tight hamstrings (the muscles at the back of your thigh) and that may contribute to back pain. However, standing toe touches may stretch the back more than the hamstrings, and may aggravate an existing back injury.

TRY INSTEAD: Towel hamstring stretches
Lie on your back with one knee bent. Wrap a towel around the foot of your other leg and use it to pull the leg up straighten the knee as you bring that leg up. Hold for 20 seconds, and repeat on the other side. Be sure to keep your back flat on the floor during this stretch.

Don’t let pain stop you from moving! See your chiropractor if you have any questions or concerns.

Pain changes everything. Chiropractic care changes pain.



1. Callaghan JP, Gunning JL, McGill SM. The relationship between lumbar spine load and muscle activity during extensor exercises. Physical Therapy. 1998;78(1):8-18.