Woman with Back Pain

6 Exercises and Stretches That Can Help Prevent Back Pain

Back pain is so common it affects almost everyone at some point in their lives. Men and women both get it; it can happen when you’re young or old; and couch potatoes as well as athletes suffer from it occasionally. In most cases, back pain goes away on its own in a few days.

For many who have back pain, the last thing they want to do is exercise. However, lying in bed for long periods of time can leave you weaker which can make your back hurt worse.

The best way to avoid back pain is by keeping your back, and all the muscles that support it, strong and flexible.

These gentle but effective exercises can do just that. Those who are overweight are much more likely to have back pain. If you are overweight, you may benefit from a program of vigorous exercise. Talk to your doctor about what kind of exercise is right for you!

1. Pelvic Tilt

Pelvic Exercise

This goal of this warmup exercise is to put your back and pelvis in the ideal neutral position, which can relieve pain and help you move the rest of your body better.

Lay on the ground with your knees bent and your hands on your lower abdomen. Your back probably has a slight arch to it: notice how this feels.

  1. Pull your abdominal muscles in. Imagine you are trying to suck your navel towards the back of your spine.
  2. Move your hips up as if you are trying to “tuck” your pelvis underneath you.
  3. Relax your lower back. Your back is now supported by your abdominal muscles, with only a slight curve. This is neutral spine.
  4. Hold for up to 10 seconds, then return to the original position.

Now that you know what neutral spine feels like, try to recreate it through the rest of the exercises. Concentrate on your breathing: besides the back benefits, this exercise is a great way to cope with stress.

How many: Start out with 10 tilts.

How often: You can do these every day.

2. Quad Stretch

Stretch Exercises

If you work at a desk job or sit for long periods of time, the muscles at the front of your legs (the quadriceps or quads, for short) may become tight and short. This can create more stress on your lower back. Loosening up these muscles can relieve this tension.

  1. Reach behind you, grab your right shin with your right hand, and bring it toward your buttocks. Hold onto a piece of furniture with your left-hand for support.
  2. Hold your core in tight and don’t let your back arch.
  3. Hold for 15 – 30 seconds, then stretch the other leg.

If you’re not very flexible, try this stretch on the floor. You should feel a deep stretch in the front of your leg, from your groin to your knee. Stop if you start feeling it in your back.

How many: 2 or 3 on each leg.

How often: You can do this stretch every day.

3. Knee to Chest Stretch

Knee to Chest Exercise

This stretch can help loosen the muscles in both the front and back of the hips, the groin, and lower back, and it will help your range of motion. The key to getting the most benefit from this stretch is to keep your back in a neutral position. A gentle arch is ok, but you should hold your abdominal muscles tight.

  1. Lay on your back.
  2. Bring your right leg up and bring your knee to your chest. Hold for 15 – 30 seconds.
  3. Return to original position.
  4. Repeat with left leg.

If you can’t get your knee up very high, don’t force it. You can only go as far as you can go! But if you practice this stretch regularly, you’ll be able to get a deeper stretch that can help to loosen up your back and hips.

How many: 3 to 5 on each leg.

How often: You can do the stretch every day.

4. Cat-Cow Stretch

Animation of Back Stretch Exercise

This exercise can help make your entire spine, from your hips and lower back all the way up to your shoulders and neck, more flexible.

  1. Start by getting down on all fours. Your knees should be about hip distance apart and your hands should be as wide as your shoulders. Your stomach should be firm, as if you’re trying to suck your navel to your spine.
  2. Inhale and tilt your pelvis back so it sticks up. Keep your abs tight but drop your belly down.
  3. Move your head up like you are trying to look up at the ceiling, but don’t strain your neck.
  4. As you exhale, draw your belly to your spine and round your back. You should look like an angry cat with an arched back
  5. Inhale and move back to the ‘cow’ part of the pose.

How many: 10 complete cycles going from cat to cow.

How often: You can do this stretch every day.

5. Bridge

Bridge Stretching Exercise

This exercise is excellent at strengthening all of the muscles in your abdomen and hips that support your back.

  1. Lay flat on the ground with your knees bent and your toes facing forward.
  2. Use the big muscles in your buttocks (the glutes) and the backs of your legs (hamstrings) to lift your hips up off of the ground.
  3. Push your heels to the floor and squeeze your abdominal muscles tight. Hold for two seconds.
  4. Return to the floor.

Don’t turn your head while in this position and don’t try to make this a backbend, which will put more pressure on your spine. Keep your back as relaxed as possible. Imagine a straight line going from your chest to your knees.

How many: Repeat 8 to 12 times.

How often: Two or three times a week.

6. Quadruped/”Bird Dog” Exercise

Leg Stretching Position

This exercise will help you improve your balance and posture. It will also help strengthen your abdominal muscles and the muscles in your back that stabilize your spine. It may not seem like much, but this exercise works many of your body’s major muscle groups.

  1. Start on all fours, with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Distribute your weight evenly, hold in your core, and keep your back flat.
  2. Gently extend your right arm forward. Imagine you are trying to grow long, starting from your shoulder blade. Stretch through your fingertips.
  3. Extend your left leg out behind you, turning on the muscles in your buttocks and hamstrings to keep the leg up, and point your toes.
  4. Steady yourself by holding your stomach muscles tight. Hold for two seconds
  5. Return to center.
  6. Start on the other side, extending your left arm and right leg.

How many: Repeat 8 to 12 times.

How often: Two or three times a week.

Get the Most from Your Efforts

The key to getting the most from these exercises is to keep them within your range of motion and ability to control the movements. Move gently and never force your body to go beyond it’s limits. The more you do these exercises, focusing on correct posture, the easier they will be for you.

If any of these back exercises cause pain or make pain worse, stop doing them immediately and call your doctor.

Only Attempt These if You’re Not Suffering Pain

If you have back pain that has gotten worse over a few weeks, pain from a trauma or injury, or back pain that has been joined by numbness or tingling in your arms or legs, see a doctor. Call us at (888) 499-9303, we offer primary care and specialty care to support you and your family.

Get started with AltaMed

See how AltaMed Health Services can help your family grow healthy.

Learn More

Ambulance arriving to ER

When to Visit your Doctor, Urgent Care, or the ER

When you or a loved one is sick or injured, you may not be sure whether to see your primary care doctor, visit urgent care, or go to the emergency room (ER).

We want to help you make the best decision based on your insurance coverage, what you may have to pay out of pocket, and whether the site you visit has the resources to help with your situation. If you have questions about where to seek care, call us at 888-499-9303.

When to See Your Primary Care Doctor

Man Looking At A Data Board


If the situation is not an emergency and it is during regular office hours, visiting your primary care doctor is the best option. Your doctor knows you, your medical history, and what medications you take. Having an existing relationship with the doctor may also make it easier for them to fit you in quickly.

Your primary care doctor is the best call for:

  • Skin conditions
  • A cold, the flu, a cough, or a sore throat
  • Low-grade fevers
  • Minor allergic reactions
  • Digestive troubles
  • Sinus pain
  • Vomiting

If you have private insurance, seeing your primary care doctor is also the friendliest choice for your wallet because your co-pay will be less expensive than a trip to the ER. If you don’t currently have a primary care doctor, use our tool to find a doctor who speaks your language and is close to your work or home.

When to Visit Urgent Care

Woman and Her Child in a Doctors Appointment

According to the Urgent Care Association of America, more than 88 million people visit urgent care centers each year.

If your illness or injury is not an emergency, your primary care doctor’s office is closed (nights, weekends, holidays), and/or you believe the situation cannot wait, urgent care is your best option. Urgent care centers have the equipment to handle severe but non-emergency situations.

Urgent care centers are the best call for conditions that include:

  • Sprains and strains
  • Broken bones that have not broken the skin
  • Minor cuts or rashes
  • Animal bites
  • High fevers
  • Pneumonia
  • Ear infections
  • Urinary infections

With private insurance, visiting an urgent care center will cost you more than seeing your regular doctor, but can save you hundreds of dollars (or more) over an ER visit. Make sure that the urgent care center you visit is in your plan’s network to avoid additional charges.

We have a network of AltaMed and affiliated urgent care centers throughout Southern California. Find one near you now.

When to Go to the ER

Child Receiving Medical Help for Broken Leg

The emergency room is for real medical emergencies—the staff and equipment are there to provide life-saving care for extreme cases. For severe medical situations, you can call 911 or visit an emergency room. Most hospital emergency rooms are open 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

The ER is the correct destination if you or a loved one is experiencing:

  • A severe injury or major trauma, including a severe cut or burn
  • Overdose
  • Stroke or heart attack
  • Loss of consciousness
  • A seizure
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Trouble speaking
  • Dizziness and loss of coordination
  • A head injury
  • Broken bones that puncture the skin
  • Heavy bleeding

Depending on what kind of insurance you have, a trip to the ER can cost you thousands of dollars, so be sure to reserve these visits for real emergencies. However, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms or conditions above, do not hesitate! Go to the ER.

One Last Note About Medical Treatment Options

Doctor Taking Care of a Man With an Injured Hand

Obviously, if you have a severe cut, are bleeding, or you are suffering a significant bodily injury, GET TO THE ER, STAT! But if you need help figuring out the right place to go for treatment, call AltaMed at 888-499-9303.

Remember that your primary care doctor should always be your first call—they know you best and will ensure that your care is consistent. Leave urgent care and the ER for those times when you are experiencing more serious difficulties or emergencies.

AltaMed man and women riding bikes by the beach

Outdoor Activities You Can Do All Year Long

Quick, think of five things you love about Southern California. If you’re anything like us, the warm, sunny weather probably made your list. While the rest of the country braces for a long, snowy winter, Angelenos can stay healthy and active, January through December. Check out these fun outdoor activities you and your family can enjoy all year long.

Go Swimming

Little Girl Swimming Under Water

During months when it’s too cold for taking a dip in the ocean, try visiting one of LA’s public or year-round swimming pools. Swimming offers a whole-body workout with no impact on your joints, and many people enjoy swimming well into their senior years. Some facilities offer other activities, such as water fitness, aqua aerobics, and even land-based classes like yoga and Zumba. The City of Los Angeles has 16-year round pools, and adults can show their Los Angeles library cards to get $1.50 off with every visit.

Take a Hike

Three People Jumping On Rocks Having Fun

Thanks to SoCal’s mild winter months, hiking is excellent cardio, no gym required. Beginners have plenty of options such as walking trails in Elysian Park (behind Dodger Stadium) and the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, where you can enjoy incredible, panoramic views of Los Angeles! Together, Griffith Park and the San Gabriel Mountains offer hundreds of miles of trails, with hikes that range from easy and family-friendly to challenging, all-day treks. Be sure to check the weather forecast ahead of time and dress in comfortable, removable layers.

Join a Sports Team

Guys Playing Soccer

Feeling a little competitive? Try joining a year-round sports league. There are organized outings for many popular sports including soccer, basketball, or baseball, that meet and play every month. Looking to try something new? There are leagues for all kinds of skill levels, so you can learn and have fun at the same time. Playing sports is a fantastic way to burn calories and build muscle, so you’ll stay active and healthy.

Explore a Farmers Market

Mom and Daughter Exploring a Farmers Market

Farmers markets are a fun way to spend a weekend morning and get some steps in. Many markets, like the Farmer’s Market at Bank of America Plaza in Downtown LA and the East Los Angeles Farmers Market, run year-round, so you can stay fully stocked on healthy ingredients. Take time to walk the entirety of the market and explore stalls of colorful, seasonal produce, canned goods, prepared foods, and more! Look online to see local markets in your area. Loaded up on fresh foods? Check out some of AltaMed’s easy recipe ideas.

Get Moving with Your Furry Friend

Woman Frolicking with a Bunch of Dogs in the Grass

No matter the time of year, dogs need to get outside and get moving. If you live in an apartment or don’t always have time to walk your dog twice a day, check out the local dog parks in your area. Both you and your dog will get great exercise walking around and enjoying the outdoors. Remember to come prepared with doggie bags and a leash. Ready for a walk? Try the Arts District Dog Park in Downtown LA, or the Bone Yard in Culver City, considered two of the best dog parks around.

Get Moving and Have Fun!

Young Family Walking on the Beach

Staying active all year round is important for your long-term health. Thanks to Southern California’s great weather, finding fun outdoor activities is easy. Invite friends along or take the family, and you’ll find activities to look forward to for years to come. Want to learn more? Check out these other great ideas for staying active and healthy.

6 Exercises and Stretches That Can Help Prevent Back Pain