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The 3 Best Exercises For Your Back

The 3 Best Exercises For Your Back

By Tamer Issa, PT, DPT

People suffering from acute or chronic back pain who are searching for ways to take care of their spine are often confused by the sheer number and variety of exercises that are available to them to try.  

As physical therapists, we are often asked by friends, family, and clients: “What are some good exercises that I can do for my back”.  We often reply it depends on multiple factors including your age, current condition, previous history, environmental factors, etc. To a large extent it does, but there are some fundamental exercises that you can do to help your spine, no matter what your specific situation is.  

Your spine requires some fundamental maintenance to stay healthy that includes exercises addressing relaxation, mobility, and stability.  It’s that simple!

Here are the 3 best exercises that you can do for your back that will serve you for the rest of your life!

1.   Child’s Pose


Simply because this position is restorative for your spine.  It relaxes the spine muscles, it decompresses (makes space for) the spine bones, it opens up the hips, and it promotes diaphragmatic breathing.  This exercise is perfect first thing in the morning, when your back is aching, or at the end of a long day.

How To:

Begin kneeling on all fours. Sit back on your heels and rest your arms by your sides. You can rest your arms above your head if that is more comfortable.  

To make more room for your body, separate your thighs for a wide-knee version of the child's pose.  

Rest and breathe allowing your body to completely relax.  

Breathe into your belly and back.  

If you have knee pain or discomfort place a pillow or folded blanket under your leg behind your knee.

Perform Daily or As Needed for Relaxation and Pain Relief

Hold This Position for 30 Breaths or at least 2 Minutes

  1. Cat/Dog


This exercise addresses mobility of your spine.  Spine mobility exercises help restore movement in areas of the spine that may not be moving well.  It helps lubricate the spinal joints allowing them to move more freely; motion is lotion for the joints.  This exercise is also good for relieving tight, painful, and stiff back muscles. Do this exercise after Child’s Pose, in the morning or before bed, or anytime you are feeling stiff.  


How To:

Start on all fours with back straight, hands under the shoulders and knees under hips.

To do the dog stretch, slowly inhale and let the belly fall toward the floor to arch the back and extend the head in the same time.

To do the cat stretch, slowly exhale, round the back and tuck the chin to the chest.

Alternate between these two positions slowly.

Perform Daily or As Needed If You Are Feeling Stiff

Repeat 15 Times

  1. Postural Core Stability


This exercise addresses one the most common underlying causes of back problems- overloading of the spine due to lack of stability.  Poor function of the spinal stabilization muscle system, which includes the diaphragm, pelvic floor, abdominals, and back muscles, leads to overloading of the spine. This exercise helps to improve the activity and coordination of these muscles allowing for optimal stability and quality of dynamic movement.  Do this exercise after Child’s Pose and Cat/Dog, in the morning or evening, or include it in your warm-up before any exercise routine.

How To:

Lie on your back with your legs on chair or couch (90/90 or Table Top Position).

Place a pillow under your pelvis if you feel that your lower back is arched in the resting position.

Your head is supported, the shoulders are freely supported by the floor, and the chest is relaxed.

Breathe into the lower abdominal region, side and back parts of the abdomen and lower ribs.

After breathing into these areas for several breaths, attempt to maintain the pressure into those areas while cycling through several breaths.

Common Mistakes:

Back bending of the head and neck.

Shoulders lose contact with the floor.

Lower ribs are tipped upward while exhaling.

Lower back starts arching or is not in contact with the floor.

Perform Daily For Optimal Results

Do 5 Sets of 5 Breaths Per Set

These exercises are best for when you are not experiencing a painful episode.  Do not perform any of these exercises if you are experiencing acute pain, if you are severely limited with your movements, or if your symptoms are aggravated by bending forward, sitting, or slouched standing.  If being in any of these exercise positions causes pain, do not perform. Reach out to an outpatient physical therapist if you have any questions or concerns.

Check out Dr. Tamer Issa's book, Freedom From Neck & Back Pain- Learn to Live an Active Life Without Fear of Pain