Exercise With Chronic Pain – Back Strengthening


Should I Exercise With Chronic Pain?

Exercise with Chronic Pain
Exercise with Chronic Pain

You can exercise with chronic pain as long as you know how to do it properly.  If done correctly, it can help eliminate a lot of the pain.

Millions of people suffer with chronic pain over the course of their lifetime.  Personally, I suffer with Degenerative Disk Disease in my back which has progressed due to injuring my L5-S1 in the military when I was 19.  I also suffer with Rheumatoid Arthritis.  Every joint in my body hurts pretty much daily.  My back hurts the worst and my neck is degenerating as well.

Back pain is the most common chronic pain in aging folks due to repetitive strains, acute injuries, or just bony wear and tear.  It makes a fantastic excuse not to work out.  But…excuses are useless.  They don’t help anything.

Yes, you can exercise with chronic pain.  In fact, healthy exercise targeting your the affected area actually do help prevent the chronic pain.  For me, the chronic pain is in my lower back mostly from an old military injury.  Exercise helps by loosening it up and preventing stiffness.  With arthritis, doctor’s tell you to keep moving.  Sitting sedentary causes the back and joints to weaken.  So yes…lose the excuses and get up, get moving!


Warm Up & Stretching

If you want to exercise with chronic pain, it is very important to warm up your muscles and stretch properly before doing any workout.  This will help keep you from injuring anything during your exercises.  Start by doing a few dynamic stretching exercises to get your joints loosened up and your nervous system ready to go.


Core Strengthening

Sit Ups
You want me to do what now?

Your back and your abdomen make up the core of your body and work together to hold your body upright.  If you’re going to exercise with chronic pain, especially back pain, you would be wise to strengthen your core to ensure that both parts are functioning properly which will allow you to stand, stretch, and bend appropriately.

Abdominal exercises are one of the best exercises for a healthy back.  When your abdomen is weak, you put too much pressure on your back to take on the functions that the abdomen needs to participate in.  So you want to work on strengthening your abdomen as this strengthens the overall core and helps you have a strong, healthy back.

Which abdominal exercises work best?

Sorry to report…sit ups are a good way to strengthen the abdominal muscles so that the core is stronger.  These can be done in several ways to strengthen the upper, middle and lower abdominal muscles.  Try these three:

  1. Sit ups with your legs straight – this strengthens the upper abdominal muscles.
  2. Sit ups with your legs bent – this strengthens the middle abdominal muscles.
  3. Leg lifts – this strengthens the lower abdominal muscles.  Lay down on the floor and lift your feet off the floor using your abs.

To build up a strong core that will help your back keep your body strong, try to do these three kinds of sit ups in different sets of ten at a time…and try to do it about ten times a day.  I know…that’s a lot!  It may make your abdomen sore for a day or so as it involves about three hundred different exercises, but it’ll be worth it in the long run when you’re sporting rock hard, badass abs!  Right?

But I can’t do sit ups!  I tried!

Yeah…me too.  First of all, join me in trying to eliminate the words “I can’t” from our vocabulary, okay?  I have a bad habit of that myself.  Maybe we can’t do sit ups the way we’re supposed to yet, so let’s work up to that by starting with just ab crunches.  We absolutely CAN exercise with chronic pain and while we may not be able to do everything right away, we can make simple modifications that will allow us to work up to that point.

Watch the video below as I show you which crunches I’m doing to strengthen my core.


Simple Back Exercises

Looks Easy, Right?
Looks Easy, Right?

You could focus solely on the back, although, most back exercises also work the abdominal muscles as well.  Either way, you end up with a healthier back.

Reverse Leg Lifts

For this exercise, you want to lay on your stomach and lift your legs straight up a few inches off he ground…one leg at a time.  You want to do several sets of 10 for each leg, per day to help strengthen your back.

Back Exercise Machines

Most gyms have several machines that isolate the back muscles.  I do Back Extensions in a chair at the gym that involves bending backwards to straighten out my back until there is a slight arch, and then bending forward again.  I put 50 pound weights on the machine and will gradually increase the muscles strength with heavier and heavier weights.  I do 4 sets of 20 back extensions at the gym.



Pilates strengthens the core too!

Pilates is another core strengthening form of exercise.  You could take personalized lessons from a Pilates instructor or you could purchase DVD lessons.  It is a toning type of exercise that strengthens the core, including the abdominal and back muscles.  The exercises are easy to learn and can be a part of your daily exercise routine at home if you’d like.


A healthy back is all about core strength training.  It includes exercises of the back as well as exercises of the stomach.  When you finish your back and ab strengthening exercises, you’ll want to make sure to do a few static stretches to help improve your flexibility in these areas as well.  This includes things like bending from side to side to loosen the back stiffness and bending forward to touch your toes, which keeps your back from getting too tight.

In summary, we can and should exercise with chronic pain.  Exercising helps to prevent stiffness and improve strength and flexibility in the affected areas which will lead to less chronic pain.  Sure, exercising may make you sore at first, but stick with it and you’ll strengthen up quickly.

Let us know if you know of other core strengthening exercises we can add to our routines or what has worked for you, also if you suffer from chronic pain and do certain exercises that help.  We love to try new things and will gladly share the results, just drop a comment below and let us know.

And remember, forget skinny…train to be a fit badass!

Talk soon,



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