What Sports Are Safest For People With Lower Back Pain?

Aug 17, 2017
What Sports Are Safest For People With Lower Back Pain?
People often assume that once they develop lower back pain, their athletic days are pretty much over. Indeed, many of us don’t feel like doing much exercise when we’re in pain, and our first impulse is to restrict movement in order to avoid...

People often assume that once they develop lower back pain, their athletic days are pretty much over. Indeed, many of us don’t feel like doing much exercise when we’re in pain, and our first impulse is to restrict movement in order to avoid aggravating the problem. However, certain sports and forms of exercise not only are safe for people with lower back pain, but are actually encouraged. In fact, increasing the strength and flexibility of your back muscles through low-impact sports is one of the best things you can do to alleviate their pain.

Low-impact sports that are safe for your lower back


Exercising in the water is a great way to stay active without aggravating the lower back. The water itself offers a natural resistance against muscle movement, and swimming uses many core muscles without the jarring impacts of running or contact sports. Try practicing a variety of strokes to avoid aggravating parts of your lower back due to repetitive motion. Focus on movements that do not require much hip or back rotation. If necessary, use a mask and snorkel to reduce the rotation required to catch breaths between strokes. If you’re relatively new to swimming as an ongoing exercise, you might consider starting with aquatic therapy to help your body acclimate to the resistance and buoyancy of the water. Also, consider working with a swim coach who can help you improve your stroke and keep your body in proper alignment while swimming.

Low-Impact Yoga

Yoga naturally lends itself well to flexibility and proper alignment, combining resistance and stretches with systematic breathing. Certain styles and poses of yoga are better for back pain sufferers than others, so focus on the gentler styles or take a low-impact class. In your first class, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to the instructor and give them a heads up about your injury. A good yoga teacher will keep you in mind throughout the class and offer back-friendly modifications for certain poses.

Tai Chi

Sometimes referred to as “meditation in motion,” tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that could also be described as part martial art, part physical therapy. It is a low-impact form of exercise that is very gentle on muscles and joints. It also encourages mindfulness, reduces stress and promotes pain relief relaxation of the muscles — a welcome opportunity for relief for the lower back. When performed properly, tai chi offers almost nothing but physical and emotional benefits for people of all ages. If you’re new to this form of exercise, we recommend participating in a class in order to learn the movements and remain disciplined.


Walking can be a wonderful form of exercise for low back pain sufferers, especially with the correct shoes and walking surfaces. Even a regimen of low-impact walking can encourage flexibility and strengthen muscles, both in the legs and in your core, while more strenuous walking can promote a healthy cardiovascular system. That said, a word of caution: walking in the wrong way can aggravate back pain by putting undue pressure on the spine, so be mindful in approaching this exercise. Choose a walking shoe with plenty of cushioning and support for the arch and heel. Avoid walking on concrete or pavement for extended lengths of time, especially if you experience pain from it. Instead, look for prepared walking tracks or even dirt paths.

Sports to avoid if you have lower back problems

Of course, some sports are safe bets for those with lower back pain, while others can aggravate the problem. Let’s take a look at a few sports that by their nature can aggravate lower back pain and injuries.

Contact sports of any kind

These include football, hockey, basketball, boxing, and any other sport involving physical contact with others. These sports invite jarring impacts that can aggravate back pain and even cause injury.


Not only do gymnastics encourage muscle and spine movements that are unfriendly to the lower back, but landings can cause undue strain on the spine.


Repeated impacts on the heel travel up the spine and aggravate pain.

Having lower back pain can limit some of the sports you might be used to playing, but it doesn’t mean you have to become sedentary. To learn more about various sports and exercises that may benefit you as a back pain sufferer, call Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center at 404-256-2633.

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