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Back Pain Center

Ab Exercises for People With Back Pain

author image Ashley Mackenzie
Ashley Mackenzie has been writing professionally since 2009. Her travel, consumer-related and instructional articles are regularly published online. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in literature and history.
Ab Exercises for People With Back Pain
Man doing crunches Photo Credit Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images


Back pain shouldn't keep you from working your abdominal muscles to tone your stomach. Strengthening your abs is a smart way to improve your posture and reduce the strain on your back -- which could alleviate some of your pain, according to the University of Michigan Health System. Other abdominal exercises, such as crunches, have modifications that enable individuals with back pain to practice them effectively without hurting their backs.


Crunches are one of the most common exercises to strengthen abdominal muscles, but they are sometimes excruciating if you suffer from back pain. In a "Good Housekeeping" article on abdominal exercises, writer Melissa Dribben says that you can avoid pain by resting your calves on a chair. A coffee table works just as well, if your calves are parallel to the floor. Cross your arms over your chest and lift your shoulders off the floor. Keep your lower back flat. The University of Michigan Health System website suggests holding your arms out in front of you instead of keeping them crossed, which makes the exercise easier on your stomach and, most importantly, your back.

Pelvic Tilt

The pelvic tilt is a simple exercise that tightens your abs while straightening your posture. Lie on the ground with bent knees and feet flat on the ground. Tighten your abdominal muscles to press your lower back flat against the floor. You may feel immediate relief in your lower back. Although it's tempting to hold your breath as you tighten your abs, try to breathe normally. Hold the position for five seconds, and repeat several times.

Cat and Camel

The cat and camel exercise massages your spine's nerve roots, making it excellent for your back, according to an ACE Fitness cover story by spine biomechanics professor Stuart McGill, Ph.D., from the University of Waterloo. Get down on your hands and knees and slowly raise your head and hips, letting your stomach and back sag like the area between camel humps. When you reach your limit, gradually lower your head between your arms while arching your back like a stretching cat. This is where the abdominal muscles start working. Repeat five to eight times. McGill emphasizes the need for fluid motion; this is an exercise, not a static stretch.

Knee Side-to-Side

The knee side-to-side exercise stretches and realigns your back while making your abs do the work. Lie on the floor with bent knees and feet flat on the floor. Tighten your abdominal muscles and gently roll your knees to one side toward the floor. Keep them together as you do so. Go as far as is comfortable, and then return to the starting position and roll your knees to the other side.

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