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5 of the best low-impact exercises for back pain

One of the biggest misconceptions people have when dealing with back pain or joint pain is that they should cut back on exercising. While it is true that your exercise routine should be adjusted based on your physical limitations, halting physical activity can actually do more harm than good.

Exercise is one of the best ways you can beat back pain and help prevent its return. The right exercises will strengthen the muscles that support the joints and spine, improving posture and reducing pain. With the help of a doctor or physical therapist, many back surgery patients are even able to return to physical activity in the days following surgery.

Here are five of the best low-impact exercises you can do to support joint and spine health and reduce pain.

back painRowing

The rowing machine is one of the most underused pieces of exercise equipment at the gym, but it’s also one of the most beneficial. Rowing simultaneously works your legs, back, core and arms. It’s also a calorie-blasting workout — spend just 30 minutes on the rowing machine, and you could burn nearly 300 calories. Good form is important in rowing, so be sure to get some help from gym staff or a certified professional trainer if you’re new to rowing.


Water provides both support and resistance, making it one of the best aerobic exercises for people with joint and/or back pain. Water exercises like swimming and water aerobics minimize weight put on the joints while providing strength-building resistance. The buoyancy of water counteracts gravity, supporting the weight of the swimmer and helping to improve range of motion. Swimming can also be a high-calorie burn workout, burning 300-350 calories in just 30 minutes.


The ancient practice of yoga has become increasingly popular in the U.S. in recent decades. Most yoga classes consist of a combination of physical exercises and movements, breathing techniques, and meditation. The gentle, fluid movements of yoga help to improve strength, flexibility and endurance, while strengthening the muscles that support the back and spine, providing relief from pain. Focused breathing and meditation can promote relaxation and stress relief. Many yoga exercises can be performed using an exercise ball (Swiss ball) to help improve strength while increasing flexibility and range of motion.


Walking is one of the most basic low-impact exercises for someone with back or joint pain. Walking helps to maintain a healthy weight, strengthen bones and muscles and improve balance and coordination. Take the intensity up a notch without increasing impact by walking up a hill for added resistance. Speed changes can also help to increase calorie burn and endurance.


If you’re looking for a low-impact exercise you can do at the gym, give the elliptical a try. It’s a simple, no-impact exercise beneficial for those with knee, back or hip pain. While the basic elliptical motion is a lower body exercise, some elliptical machines include an upper body component that will allow you to pump your arms while exercising, increasing calorie burn.

Remember: If you are new to exercise, talk to your doctor before beginning any workout routine. It’s important to start slowly and gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workout. Work with a certified professional trainer who can teach you the correct technique for each exercise and help craft a workout program designed specifically for your individual needs and limitations.

About Vivek Kushwaha

Vivek P. Kushwaha attended the University of Texas at Austin where he earned his B.A. from the College of Natural Sciences. He then earned his medical degree from the University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio, Texas.

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