Back Pain

Physical Therapy Exercises To Help With Lower Back Pain

Living with even moderate back pain can interfere with your ability to enjoy life. Whether it comes and goes or is persistent, finding ways to manage lower back pain can be difficult. In fact, we often target the wrong treatments to help ease back pain. While these treatments offer temporary relief, your goal is to find a solution with long lasting effects. Luckily, physical therapy exercises can help when you target the right muscles. Here we explain why physical therapy exercises can help and how you can see impressive results. (1)

PT For Low Back Pain Targets The Right Muscles

Physical therapy exercises work well for back pain because they target the right muscles. Your spine has three layers of muscles, designed to protect and support it, called the “intrinsic layer”. The multifidus muscle is the second layer of these muscles. It consists of a series of small “bundles” running along both sides of the spinal column. As part of the back extensor muscles, they help support your back so you can extend, tilt, arch and rotate your body. When you suffer back injury or pain this important muscle shrinks and atrophies. Therefore your best course of action is to find exercises targeting this muscle to help restore proper function. Physical therapy exercises activate the deep multifidus muscle so it can provide the strength and support your back needs. (1,2)

PT For Low Back Pain To Activate The Multifidus

Here are two physical therapy exercises you can do at home to activate the multifidus and build endurance: (1)

1. Bird Dog: PT For Low Back Pain

The bird dog works your core helping improve stability. The exercise also helps you maintain a neutral spine while strengthening back muscles. When done three times a week, you can improve your posture and range of motion. Most people can manage these simple moves to help reduce or even recover from low back pain. (1,3)

Follow these steps to perform your bird dog exercises:  

  • Get on all fours with knees under hips and your wrists below your shoulders.
  • Engage the abdominal muscles to maintain a neutral spine.
  • Raise your right arm forward and left leg back, keeping your hips and shoulders in the same position.
  • Keep the back of the neck long and chin tucked slightly, looking at the floor.
  • Hold the position for a few seconds before lowering the arm and leg.
  • Do the same with the left arm and right leg.
  • Continue to alternate, completing about 10 on each side.

You can do this exercise three times per week. Check out this video for real time instruction: 

2. One Legged Or Two Legged Bridge: PT For Low Back Pain

Bridges can target a number of different muscles depending on how you hold the position. In the case of the one legged or two legged bridge you can strengthen your core, legs, hips and back. A stable core and strong hips help support your back so this is a well-rounded exercise. If you have difficulty with a one legged bridge, you can try a two legged bridge until you feel stronger. (1,4)

Follow these steps to perform your one legged bridge exercises:

  • Lie flat on your back.
  • Bend the knees and place your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
  • Press the feet into the ground to lift the hips as high as you can..
  • Raise your right leg up while maintaining a solid stance with the left leg.
  • Keep the hips squared and engage the front abs to help stabilize your core.
  • Lower the right leg and repeat on the other side.
  • Alternate about 5-10 times each leg, maintaining a strong, stable center.
  • Sink your hips down to the floor slowly.  

Try three sets of 15 repetitions for each leg, or three rounds of a 30-second hold for each leg. See which one you like best, and add variations as they become easier to manage. Check out this video for further instruction: 

If lifting the legs is too difficult, start by simply lifting the hips into a bridge and slowly lowering back down, lifting and lowering, maintaining solid hips and core. 

Both physical therapy exercises help activate your multifidus muscle to strengthen your lower back and ease pain.

If you would like further information on easing back pain, click here.


  1. https://www.woodtv.com/eightwest/physical-therapy-exercises-to-help-with-lower-back-pain/
  2. https://www.verywellhealth.com/multifidus-muscle-296470
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/bird-dog-exercise#how-to-do
  4. https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/glute-bridge-variations#Quick-pointers-for-all-glute-bridge-variations

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