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Back Pain | Exercises for back pain relief

27 July, 2018
back pain for the office worker

Back pain is misunderstood

If you’re experiencing back pain, working hours can seem longer, more grueling, and make the idea of being active later daunting. 

But are you ready to have your mind blown?

Not moving makes your back pain worse!

Research shows us that movement is important for alleviating back pain. 

Not moving leads to stiff joints, which lead to tight muscles, which leads to back pain. The discomfort makes you want to avoid movement, making the joints stiffer and the muscles tighter… it’s a negative and detrimental cycle. 

But this cycle can be broken.

You must start moving. It’s that simple. Oftentimes the underlying cause of back pain is due to muscle weakness (but it’s always best to be assessed by a physiotherapist if you’re experiencing back pain).

Here are some exercises that you can perform at home and in the office that will help to alleviate pain while also strengthening your back and increasing the mobility of the joints. 

Repeated Extension in Standing


Stand with your hands on your hips and gently lean backwards. If this movement is painful only lean back to the onset of your symptoms.

Return to standing upright. Repeat this movement ten times. Challenge yourself to do this every hour and see how your back responds.

Gradually you will be able to lean further back before your back pain comes on and you may notice this movement actually takes your back pain away.

Rotation in Sitting


This is another exercise you can do at work. Bring your bottom forward on the chair so that your back is not leaning against the back rest.

You may need to adjust the height and/or tilt of your chair so that your hips make a 90 degree angle with your torso and your knees are bent at 90 degrees with your feet flat on the floor.

Cross your arms and gently turn either left or right (you’ll be doing this in both directions, so it doesn’t matter which one you start with). As you’re rotating, your hips and everything below will stay pointing in the initial direction – only your torso should be moving.

Pause and hold the position and take three deep, slow breaths. Gently unwind and return to the middle.

Repeat for a total of three times on either side. Try doing this every hour and you should notice you’ll be able to turn further as you continue to do this exercise throughout the day, and your back pain won’t be as intense when it’s time to head home.

If this turning is painful, just rotate to the onset of pain and really focus on relaxing as you’re taking those three slow, deep breaths.



Lying on your back, have your knees bent with your feet flat on the ground. Engage your core and gluteal (bum) muscles.

Raise your bottom and low back off the ground, making sure not to arch and strain your back. Your shoulders will remain on the ground. Try to not push yourself up using your arms, these should be relaxed.

Hold at the top of the movement for three seconds and then slowly lower yourself back down, but don’t have your bottom come to a complete rest on the ground. Raise your hips back up to repeat the exercise.

Make sure you’re not holding your breath while you’re performing this exercise. Give it a go doing three bouts of ten, twice a day; you may struggle to do this dosage so try and work up to it.



Lying on your front, have your arms and legs straight. Simultaneously lift your arms, chest, and legs off the floor but have your hips remain on the ground.

Hold everything up for three seconds before slowly lowering back down to the ground. As you repeat the exercise, make sure you’re not holding your breath through the movement or jerking yourself upward – it should be a controlled movement so that your muscles are working and getting stronger rather than your body compensating by generating momentum.

If this is too challenging for you, start by lifting just your chest and your arms. As you become stronger, add in lifting the legs.

Alternatively, if this is easy for you, try holding at the top of the movement for up to ten seconds with each repetition – still making sure to not hold your breath. Work your way up to doing three sets of ten repetitions, twice a day.

Deep Breathing

Lots of people – including myself initially – are sceptical when breathing techniques are mentioned, especially as it relates to physiotherapy.

However, I have used this exercise with clients, especially those with intense back pain, and even the most sceptic experience symptom relief. I am not saying this will cure your back pain, merely that it will alleviate your symptoms, especially if your back pain is preventing you from falling asleep.

Proper sleep hygiene is important for your health, but that’s another topic altogether. Getting back to the matter at hand (pun intended), at the very least give this a whirl to see if it helps to calm down your pain. On your bed, lie on your back – if this is too painful, try lying on your side. Place one hand on your tummy and the other hand on your chest.

Take a deep breath. Most likely, the hand that’s on your chest would have moved – we want to change this. As you inhale, push your tummy out, and as you exhale allow your stomach to descend.

The hand on your chest may move a little with this, but most of the movement should be coming from your belly. Next, we want to make sure you’re breathing slowly. Inhale for five seconds, counting in your head, hold the breath for three seconds, and then exhale to the count of five seconds.

Repeat this 5-3-5 cycle. Some clients experience relief in as little as one minute doing this exercise, but at home I recommend performing this for five to ten minutes, especially before bed. Taking a couple minutes throughout the day, you can repeat this at work as you’re sitting.

These are only a few of the exercises that can help to decrease your back pain. However, it is best to see a physiotherapist who will assess your back and tailor the exercises to be specific to you and your abilities. If you can increase the strength in your back muscles and increase the joint mobility, your symptoms will improve.

This article has been provided by Alex Burgess from iMove Physio. Alex Burgess holds a Master of Physiotherapy and a Bachelor degree in Kinesiology.

Book an appointment with iMove's back pain specialists

The information contained within this article/blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment in any manner. Before commencing any new exercises or if you experience any pain, seek the advice of your physiotherapist, doctor or other qualified health provider.
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