Patient Resources

Exercises For Acute Pain

These exercises are primarily designed to assist in relieving pain coming from the acute lumbar disc, or for those with sudden, severe back sprains. Mostly these patients will find that they are in excruciating pain, a locked and defensive posture, and there may possibly be symptoms of pain, tingling, burning or numbness down their buttock or back of their leg. Please visit the page I’ve Just hurt my back! What do I do? for important information on managing an acute back injury.


Remember that you should always be properly assessed by a Chiropractor, Osteopath or Physiotherapist before attempting any rehab exercise, particularly when you are in pain. If during any of the exercises you notice your symptoms worsen, stop and call your therapist immediately.

1. Prone lying

In this simple activity, lie either on the the floor, or your bed, arms by your side, with your head turned to one side. Maintain the position for at least 5 minutes, then turning to the other side.

2. Prone partial extension

From the previous position, raise yourself onto your elbows, keeping your forearms on the floor for extra balance. Lift your head and feel an arching in your back. Hold for at least 1 minute if possible.

NOTE: Instead of using your arms for support, you can build up 1, 2, and 3 pillows under your chest.

3. Prone push-up position (prone planks)

From the previous position, slowly lift yourself onto your hands, feeling the arch in your back and allowing your stomach to sag downwards. Hold for 30 seconds, tighten your abdominal muscles and get onto your toes in the push-up position and hold for another 30 seconds if possible.

4. Heel pumps

Lying on your back, slowly pull your toes and bend your foot at the ankle up towards your head. You should feel a stretch in your calf muscle, but depending on the severity of your back injury, you may feel a tug or stab of pain in your back and thigh. If it is not too uncomfortable to maintain, hold the position for 30 seconds, then do the other leg. Repeat 3 times.


5. Heel slides

From the previous position, slowly drag the heel along the floor, towards your backside, as far as you can comfortably go. Hold the maximum position for 30 seconds, then slowly slide the heel back to the starting position. Do the opposite side and repeat 3 times.

6. Leg lifts – one leg

In this exercise gently lift one leg off the floor no more than 10cm, being sure to keep the leg straight. Hold for 10 seconds then slowly lower it down again and do the other side. Repeat 3 times.

NOTE: In an acute disc injury, this exercise may be too painful to perform. If so, stop immediately.

7. Leg lifts – both legs

Like the previous exercise, except that both legs are lifted together.

NOTE: In an acute disc injury, this exercise may be too painful to perform. If so, stop immediately

8. Prone cross extension

Lying face down, slowly raise one arm and the opposite leg as high as you comfortably can, keeping both straight. Hold for 10 seconds. Then change sides. Repeat three times.

For the last repetition, try arching your back and lifting your head up as high as you can.

9. Prone star extension

As in the previous exercise, lie face down, but this time lift both arms and legs, keeping them as straight as you can. Arch your back and hold for 10 seconds then slowly lower them again. Repeat 3 times.

On the third repetition, lift your head up and arch your back a little more strongly.

Extra exercises:

  • Try arching backwards while standing. Hold for 10 seconds then return to a normal stance.
  • Try lying on your back with a pillow or rolled towel behind your back for 10 minutes at a time. Repeat every few hours.

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