Do’s and Don’ts of Exercising with Back Pain

We’ve all heard the phrase “No pain, no gain,” but when it comes to exercising, that approach is not a good one to live a healthy, active life.


Don’t: Keep Going if You Have Pain

“There is no need to work through pain,” explains Jessica Hamilton, manager of the fitness centers at Texas Health Neighborhood Care & Wellness Burleson and Willow Park.  “If you are experiencing pain, you need to stop and talk to someone.”

Hamilton, who has a bachelor’s degree in athletic training, recommends working with a certified trainer, a physical therapist, or your physician, who can show you exercises and proper form that will strengthen your body, without causing pain.


Do: Check with Your Doctor

You might have also heard the phrase, “Check with your physician before starting an exercise routine.”

That’s true, said Hamilton. Additionally, she says, her clients undergo a movement screening to evaluate exactly how their  body is moving and locate strengths, weaknesses and pain points.

Talk with your doctor, physical therapist, or certified trainer about an exercise that might be good for you, and then start with the basics.


Don’t: Go Too Hard, Too Fast

It doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to be painful, explains Hamilton.  If you have any sort of back or neck pain, Hamilton recommends low-impact exercise routines that fit well into your lifestyle.

“Walking is one of the easiest things you can do,” she says. “You don’t need fancy equipment or memberships — you just strap on some good, supportive shoes.” Walking gives you cardiovascular benefits (meaning it’s good for the heart!), and, because it’s a body-weight exercise, it helps with bone density.

Another good, low-impact exercise for people with back or neck pain is swimming, Hamilton says.  “It creates traction through the spine and provides the benefit of a weightless feeling while you work against the resistance of the water.”


Do: Stretch Yourself – with a Good Stretching Routine

Hamilton also recommends asking your physician, physical therapist or certified trainer about a basic stretching routine you can do twice a day to help keep your body limber.

“You want to be doing basic stretches, and not overthinking it,” Hamilton said. “Stretch your hamstrings, quads, calves, and hip openers,” she explained.

“You also want to be doing some postural stretches for your thoracic spine, opening up your chest and stretching out your chest muscles,” she said.  For this, Hamilton recommends putting your hands on either side of a doorway and leaning forward, gently stretching through your chest and arms.

Want to see this stretch in person? Have a trainer at a Texas Health Fitness Center walk you through these stretches or consider a gentle yoga class at your local gym or to better understand how these basic stretches work.


Don’t: Stay in One Place for a Long Time

Whether you are sitting at a desk all day or standing, Hamilton recommends that you keep moving as much as possible – especially if you have back or neck pain, or pain in other areas of your body.

“Walk around every 30 minutes, do some stretches, and get your steps in,” Hamilton said. “To maintain your mobility, you want to be always be changing your body’s positioning.”

For people with back pain, especially, long periods of sitting may result in additional pain, so move whenever possible.


Do: Shift Your Mindset

A healthy attitude is one of the best attributes a person can have, Hamilton said.

Rather than approaching exercise with an “all or nothing” mentality or feeling like exercise is only for people living without pain, Hamilton recommends a shift in perspective. Understand that there is a good exercise for you, and work with experts who can help start your journey on the right path.

“Every person I come in contact with has some sort of issue going on, not even just limited to those with back pain – from sciatic pain, to chronic shoulder issues, to neck pain, knee and joint pain, and more, we have seen people with everything.

“And what we find is that it’s most important to find an overall, comprehensive fitness routine you can stick with, because consistency matters,” she said.

Don’t focus on hard-and-fast rules about how long to work out and when to do it. Try to establish a routine that is part of your lifestyle and not a “chore” that has to be done. It’s always about balance, she said.

Hamilton also recommends that clients communicate everything about their pain and when it happens, so they can work together to find an appropriate routine.

“Clients should be as honest as they can with us,” she said. “They’ve been dealing with pain for so long that they assume it’s to be expected, but that’s not the case. You should never have to deal with pain. If you don’t know what you’re doing, reach out to someone who does.

“Trainers at Texas Health have the roadmap and can set the tone for you living your life,” she said.


Measure how back and neck pain affects your life with our free, online 5-minute assessment. Or find additional information about a Texas Health Fitness Center close to you.


  • Marcelle B Warren says:

    The problem I have is Osteoporsis and I lost 6 inches due to spine curving to right . T12 and L1 and 2 are the most affected areas. I can bend over, sit down, but I can’t walk but a short distance without severe pain. I can lie down for awhile and it goes away. About 1 and 1/2 years again I had 4 facet injections. No help at all—just made me very sick!!! Dr. suggested I do Auqua Therapy. Did that for about 3 months. No help at all—in fact, I think I was worse. I have a brace but it seems to put me in more pain than I already have. I do chair exercises 3 times a week. I tried to do Aging Gracefully at Senior Center but got to where I could hardly get out of bed. Do you think swimming would help?

    • Sarah McClellan-Brandt says:

      Hi Marcelle, unfortunately I cannot provide medical advice in these comments but I encourage you to ask your doctor! Thank you, -Sarah, Texas Health

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