5 Simple Exercises to Alleviate Arthritic Back Pain

Arthritis often causes long-term pain and discomfort. The back is the most common part of the body to feel achy, stiff, and tender due to arthritis. Osteoarthritis, in particular, tends to progress over the years. Together with the gradual loss of cartilage characteristic of this condition, patients tend to experience more pain. Bone tissues rubbing against each other create inflammation in the joints, which results in more and more pain and loss of mobility in the area.
Even though exercise may be the last thing you want to do when your joints are tender and achy, it may be the one thing capable of easing the pain. According to Harvard Health, “Exercise as an integral part of prevention and treatment of osteoarthritis, especially in people ages 65 and over. After reviewing the evidence, the group also concluded that moderate-intensity exercise does not — as some have feared — increase the risk for osteoarthritis.”

What exercises are beneficial for those suffering from arthritic back pain?

There is a variety of exercises that target back pain caused by arthritis. The focus of these exercises is to support, stabilize, and strengthen the ligaments and muscles surrounding the joints. For this, a range of strength, flexibility, and endurance exercises are used. Exercises are usually safe to do daily, if not stated otherwise by your physical therapist or doctor. Below, we list 5 helpful and simple exercises that work towards relieving arthritic back pain.

Exercise #1. Relieve lower back pain with knee-to-chest stretches.

Exercises That Reduce Arthritic Back Pain knee-to-chest stretch
Knee-to-chest stretches are great if you feel stiffness, tightness, and pain in the lower back, hips, or glutes. According to the arthritis foundation, these stretches will increase flexibility and mobility in those areas. There are two variations of these exercises: one where you bring both knees to the chest and another one where one leg remains on the floor.
We choose the latter because it’s easier to do for beginners, but both versions are equally beneficial. You will do this exercise lying down, so you will need a soft carpet, blanket, or yoga mat to cushion your back. You can place an additional blanket under your lower back to prevent any discomfort. Follow these steps:
1. Lie on your back. Keep your knees softly bent, toes slightly pointed.
2. Guide the left knee with your hands and pull the knee towards the chest. Note: the knee doesn’t have to touch your chest. You should only feel a pleasant stretch in your lower back, hips, and glutes, but no pain.
3. Hold the position for 10-15 seconds and then guide the left leg back into the initial position.
4. Repeat on the other side.

Exercise #2. Strengthen the core and back with leg lifts.

Exercises That Reduce Arthritic Back Pain leg lifts

Leg lifts can activate and strengthen your entire back, abdominal wall, hips, and improve mobility in these areas. Strengthening these areas is essential to stabilize the spine. As in the previous exercise, we offer two levels of complexity. You can raise only the leg, which is easier, or lift the opposite arm simultaneously as well. You can cushion your knees with a blanket or towel to prevent pain. Follow these steps:

1. Start on all fours with your back straight.
2. Straighten and lift the left leg. Keep the knee bent and point your toes to improve stability. Activate the muscles of the core because arching your back in this position is harmful. Note: there’s no need to raise the leg all the way up, even a slight lift will engage your back and ab muscles.
3. Hold this position for 4-5 seconds and then return to all fours.
4. Repeat with your right leg. Do this exercise 5-10 times on each side.

Related Article: 4 Simple Hand Exercises to Alleviate Arthritis Symptoms

Exercise #3. Standing side bends can strengthen your back muscles without strain.

Exercises That Reduce Arthritic Back Pain Standing side bends

It doesn’t get simpler and safer than standing side bends. Over time, this exercise will strengthen the muscles of the back and give your spine more support while also keeping the potential of straining your muscles at a minimum. You can do this exercise with or without a light weight. Follow these steps:

1. Start in a standing position, hands on the waist. 
2. Reach with your left hand down from your waist along the left side of the body. You can either keep the right arm on the waist or reach it overhead, as the women in the picture. 
3. Stretch to the side as far as you can without experiencing pain. 
4. Return to the initial position. Do this exercise 10 times on each side.

Exercise #4. Bridge pose to relieve stiffness in the back.

Exercises That Reduce Arthritic Back Pain Bridge pose

Bridge pose is another reclined stretch, but it also has the added benefit of strengthening the hips and lower back. Avoid this stretch if you have a neck injury. Follow these steps:

1. Lie on your back, keeping the knees bent, feet on the floor, and arms at your sides.
2. Activate your hip muscles and glutes (the buttocks), and raise them slowly up. Do not go all the way up if you feel any pain in the back. Some people may actually not lift their buttocks off the mat fully at first, while others may be able to move all the way up until their upper body and hips make a straight line.
3. Wherever you are, hold the position for 5-10 seconds, and then return to the initial position. You can do this exercise 10-15 times.

Exercise #5. Stretch the upper back with the “W” stretch.

The “W” stretch is called that way because your arms resemble the letter “W” when you’re doing this stretch. It’s an easy and rewarding exercise for the upper and middle back that releases any tension and stiffness in these areas. You can even practice a version of stretch near a wall, which is shown in the video above. To complete this exercise without a wall, follow these steps:

1. In a standing position, arms neutral along the body, move your palms so that the big fingers are facing out. 
2. Bend your elbows and raise your hands until your arms resemble a “W” shape.
3. Now move the elbows back. You should feel that your shoulder blades become closer and closer together.
4. Hold this position for 3 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times.

Other ways to reduce back arthritis symptoms

Exercises That Reduce Arthritic Back Pain man swimming
Truth be told, you don’t need to do these specific exercises to experience less pain. They are, of course, beneficial, and you can do them on days when you don’t get enough movement, but experts and studies alike point out that many everyday activities are beneficial for back pain caused by arthritis.
Walking and cycling are both low-impact exercises that can help painful joints and boost your heart health. Swimming and exercising in the pool are also known to be beneficial for people with osteoarthritis. Moving in water reduces the load on the joints while also strengthening your muscles since water causes resistance when you’re moving.
You can even make your daily chores - laundry, vacuuming, grocery shopping - into an exercise, just make sure to protect your back and bend with your legs and not with your back when you have to bend down. We hope you found this information helpful!
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