Is it Safe to Exercise or Lift Weights With Neck or Back Pain

Is It Safe To Exercise Or Lift Weights With Neck Or Back Pain

When you’ve come down with back or neck pain, your immediate thought might be to head to bed and rest until it passes.

But sometimes that’s the worst thing you can do.

Why is exercise good for back and neck pain?

When you do exercises, such as aerobic exercises, you boost blood flow to the soft tissues and muscles in the back and neck. These make the muscles more flexible while the endorphins from the exercise are natural painkillers.

However, that doesn’t mean you should be hitting the gym hard or engaging in dangerous exercise that can make your pain worse.

Here’s what you need to know about back pain exercise and when to give your body a break.

Avoiding Too Much Rest Is Good

Lower Back Exercise

Although it can be healthy to take things a bit easier when you’ve got neck or back pain, you should never rest too much as this can actually make your pain worse!

The reason for this is because the longer you rest your muscles the harder it will be to move them again.

In addition, you only need small amounts of bed rest for backaches because too much time in bed can cause other problems, such as constipation and a loss of muscle tone.

Try to avoid lying down for longer than a few hours at a time, and if you’re in a lot of pain avoid lying down for longer than a day or two, Harvard Health Publishing notes.

Neck And Back Exercises To Try

By gently moving the muscles in your neck and back, you can help to loosen them and heal your body. Try these exercises.

Neck Tilt

Group Of People Exercising
  • Sit in a chair and tilt your head down so that your chin makes contact with your chest.
  • Hold the position for five seconds, before going back to the starting position and doing it again.
  • Aim for doing this exercise five times.

Side-To-Side Neck Exercise

  • Sit down and tilt your neck towards one of your shoulders.
  • Maintain the position for five seconds, then go back to the starting position and do another four reps.
  • Don’t forget to do the same thing on the other side!

The Rounded Back

  • Get down onto a yoga mat on all fours.
  • Keep your palms in line with your shoulders and keep your knees in line with your hips.
  • Inhale and tuck your pelvis.
  • Round your back so that it’s arched. As you do that, move your head down as this relaxes your neck.
  • Hold it for a few seconds, then exhale and go back to the starting position.
  • Turn your face upwards so that your back can move back towards the floor.
  • Maintain this position for a few seconds.

Reverse Dumbbell Fly

Woman Doing Reverse Dumbbell Fly
  • With a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your arms at your sides and your back slightly bent forward.
  • Look down at the floor as you lift your arms up and down.
  • When you reach the top of the movement, you should tighten your shoulders, before going back to the starting position.

The Chair Twist

  • Sit down on a chair in a sideways position.
  • Move your torso to the left, and as you move you should reach for the back of the chair. So, it’s like you’re turning around to see someone you know behind you.
  • Maintain the pose with your upper body, but use your arms to stretch as this will loosen the muscles in your upper, middle, and lower back.

The Importance Of Core Exercises

You might wonder what your core has to do with neck and back pain, but they’re linked.

Both back and neck pain can be a result of the spine taking a lot of pressure on a daily basis to keep you upright.

If you don’t work your core muscles, you make your spine do all the work, which can result in injury and pain in the back and neck.

Here are some core exercises that will strengthen your abdominal muscles without putting pressure on your spine.

Leg Press

Woman Exercising
  • Lie on a yoga mat with your legs raised so that your knees are at a 90-degree angle.
  • Tighten your abs and push your back into the floor.
  • Put your hands on your quads and push your quads into your hands while you try to push them away at the same time.
  • This creates tension that you’ll feel in your core muscles, and it’s what makes this exercise a great way to help you become more aware of your core muscles.

Forward Lunge

Lunges are great to build strength in your glutes and work your abs!

  • Stand so that your feet are shoulder-width apart, with your hands on your hips.
  • Step forward with one foot and put it firmly on the ground in front of you.
  • Make sure both your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle.
  • Keep your chest straight and your shoulders above your hips.
  • Engage your buttocks and core.
  • Then, return to your starting position.

When To Avoid Exercising With Neck Or Back Pain

You should stay away from your usual exercise routine if you have severe neck pain or weakness that affects your arms and hands.

In addition, some exercises can actually make your pain worse. Here are some to avoid so that you don’t put pressure on your back.


Man Doing Sit Ups

When you move from lying in a flat position to sitting upright, this puts pressure on your spine, and it’s especially dangerous if you have weak core muscles. It can make you feel pain.

If you must do sit-ups, do half-crunches. These enable you to come up to a 20-degree angle instead of a 90-degree angle as you would in a full sit-up.

This exercise will work your abs without the strain on your back, as Active points out.

Toe Touches

This might feel like a harmless stretch to do for lower back pain, but it can exacerbate the issue.

The problem with toe touches is that you have to round your back, but that can cause pain if your muscles are tight because then you’ll have to round your back even more, as Active explains.

Instead of toe touches to stretch you out, try a supine hamstring stretch instead. This is when you lie on your back with your legs straight and raise your knee to your chest.

You want to hold onto it with both hands and pull it towards you so that you feel your left hamstring stretch. Repeat it with your other leg.

Should You Lift Weights With Neck Or Back Pain?

Woman Holding Small Weights

If you love to lift weights on a regular basis, you might wonder if you can still follow this routine now that you have neck or back pain.

The good news is that you can, but you have to follow some precautions to avoid further injury.

  • Avoid doing lifts with heavyweights, such as deadlifts, squats, Olympic lifts, and flexion exercises, as this can put pressure on your back or neck and lead to further injury.
  • Lower the weight if you battle to lift it. You can tell it’s too heavy if your body shows signs of battling to lift it, such as if your head is moving forward or your back is arching.
  • Stop immediately if you feel neck pain or discomfort as that’s a warning sign you could injure yourself if you continue.

Related Questions

Is a foam roller good for back and neck pain?

A foam roller can reduce pain, but use it correctly.

Don’t use it directly onto your lower back because there are no structures to protect the spine from the pressure, which can aggravate pain.

It’s better to use it on your glutes and hip flexors as these sometimes are the origin of lower back pain.

What’s good self-care for your neck?

If you’ve got neck pain, try to do regular stretches and exercise, and use heating pads to help bring more blood flow to the area that requires healing.

Make sure you avoid injuring yourself again or making your current pain worse by being careful with posture, sleeping position, and exercise.


If you’re suffering from neck or back pain, you might wonder if it’s safe to do exercise.

While some back pain exercises are healthy for you to keep your muscles flexible and prevent them from becoming tight, it’s important to maintain the right form when doing them and avoid any exercise that causes unnecessary stress on your spine.

This can result in pain in the back and neck that you want to bid farewell!

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