Back pain affects millions of Americans each year. It's a top cause of missed work days and the second biggest reason for doctor visits, behind colds and flu. Anyone can develop back pain, and smoking, obesity, a family history and certain jobs all increase your risk. 

One thing that can lower your odds? Exercise. The following exercises are great for preventing back pain, says physical therapist Kimberly Waters. You can start them at any age and most can be done at home with little or no equipment.

Getting started

One of the most important things to remember when you first attempt these exercises: "Start slow," says Waters. "Just try doing 10 of something, especially if it's hard, and then work up to three sets of 10." Opt for slower, controlled movements and concentrate on your form.

If you're not used to exercise, you may experience aches and pains when you first begin—but be assured, some reasonable soreness is normal. Of course, if that soreness progresses to increased or radiating pain, stop what you're doing, she adds. And if they persist, call your doctor. These exercises should help, not hurt.

  1. Pelvic tilts

Who doesn't love an exercise you can do lying down? Pelvic tilts strengthen your abdominal muscles and your buttocks – and they may be the easiest fitness move you've ever tried

“Start by lying on your back with your knees bent,” says Waters. Make sure to keep your feet flat on the floor, "then flatten your low back out by drawing in your belly button." Hold each pose for five seconds and relax slowly.

  1. Bridges

Bridges start the same ways as pelvic tilts. The difference is, you use your heels to push your bottom off the floor, keeping it elevated for a few seconds – Waters suggests at least five. Don't go too high; you'll overextend your back muscles. After the time is up, relax and place your bottom on the floor again.

Bridges will strengthen your abs and your gluteal muscles, also known as the muscles that make up your butt.

  1. Dying bugs

If you can imagine a beetle flipped onto its back, you have a pretty good idea of what the dying bug looks like. Start by doing a pelvic tilt, bringing your lower back to the floor. "Holding that pelvic tilt, march your feet and swing your arms," says Waters. "When you lift your left foot you will want to raise your right arm, and vice versa."

  1. Mini-squats

Instead of a full-on squat where your bottom dips nearly to the floor, try a modified version where your knees never go past a 90-degree angle. For best results, stand with your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart, engage (or flex) your core muscles as you move and don't let your knees move forward past your toes. Done correctly, you'll exercise your abs, hips, glutes and legs.

  1. Planks and side planks

Planking isn't just a fitness trend – it's also a move used in spine conditioning programs to strengthen your back, core and shoulders. 

To do the front plank, lie face-down on a mat. Using your hands and toes – and keeping your back straight – lift your body up, fully extending your arms. Keep it there for at least 10 seconds, and up to one minute, depending on how fit you are. "You can start on your knees and elbows first if it is tough," Waters says.

Side planks are similar, but perhaps a bit more difficult. You begin by lying on your side, and lifting your body using one arm or hand. "If you start feeling pain/strain in your low back it is time to take a break," says Waters.

Moving forward

If you're interested in expanding your repertoire of back exercises, or learning more about orthopedic injury, click here. The Medical Center of Aurora is a leader in healthcare.

You can also try classes or group lessons. Waters likes Pilates, yoga and tai chi, all of which can strengthen back muscles and improve flexibility.

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