Types of Exercise PTs Recommend for Low Back Pain

Exercise is an extremely important component of managing back pain.  Patients often ask, “what’s the best type of exercise for my back?”  While generalizations can be made about exercise, it’s important that the exercise chosen is appropriate for your specific condition.  It’s best to be evaluated by a physical therapist. Your provider will prescribe an individualized program that will fit your specific condition and level of fitness.  

Generally, exercise for the spine fits into 4 categories:  Directional preference, Stabilization, Flexibility, and Cardiovascular.

Directional Preference Exercises: refer to repeatedly moving your spine a specific direction, that typically results in a lessening of your symptoms.  It’s well documented that when a directional preference is identified, individuals suffering with low back pain will benefit from this form of exercise.


Stabilization Exercise: may sometimes be referred to as trunk or core stabilization, core strengthening,  abdominal exercise, or lumbo-pelvic stability exercises. A physical therapist can properly instruct an individual with a stabilization program.  Pilates is also one specific method of performing stabilization exercise.  The ultimate goal in doing stabilization exercise is to strengthen the muscles around your spine and pelvis in order to protect the spinal structures from unwanted stress or excessive movement.

Flexibility Exercise: may also be referred to as stretching or mobility exercise.  Flexibility exercises are prescribed with the intent of improving length of a muscle or improving movement of a joint.  Typically, individuals with low back pain will benefit by improving the flexibility in the hips and lower extremities, thereby reducing stress on the low back.  

Cardiovascular Exercise: may include many types of activity.  The hallmark of a cardiovascular activity is that you must be working at a level of intensity that will result in an increase in heart rate for a period of time.  Cardiovascular exercise (or “cardio”) can provide many total body benefits, aid in disease prevention, and assist with weight loss (a bonus result that can help reduce low back pain).  Many times, it’s difficult to perform cardiovascular activity with back pain.  A physical therapist can assist in suggesting a specific method that should not elevate your pain levels.  In fact, many times patients will note pain relief due to an Endorphin release, which is a natural chemical released during exercise.  

It’s well documented that exercise is a very beneficial component to managing back pain – gone are the days of total inactivity and bed rest.  A physical therapist is uniquely educated to provide the best prescription to match your specific condition and fitness level.  *Prior to starting a new exercise program, it is important to be medically cleared by a Physician if you are over 50, or suffer from a heart condition. 


If you’re one of the millions of people fighting through back pain, you’ve come to the right place. Body One PT’s team of of compassionate, expert providers works with patients of all ages and activity levels, and back pain is a common condition (with many different causes) which we treat daily. We’re locally owned and operated, with three convenient locations serving Central Indianapolis: North Indy/Carmel, Fishers, and Zionsville. Don’t let back pain disrupt your life, take charge with physical therapy at Body One PT. Call or click today!