In my physical therapy clinic, I’ve worked with over 500 people, approximately 200 of which have had some form of lower back pain. I also started a Facebook group in 2020 that grew to about 2,200 people worldwide. I can tell you definitively that nearly every person asks this question.

Here’s the good news; nothing is off-limits if you have lower back pain other than activities that constantly make your symptoms worse. I take a common-sense approach with this. Do things that feel good, don’t do things that feel bad. In practice, this can be a lot easier said than done as sometimes, everything hurts. 

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Table of contents:

  1. What does it mean to avoid activities that make symptoms worse?
  2. How long should I expect lower back pain to last?
  3. Is there a proper way to modify exercises to reduce the chance of a flare-up of low back pain?

What does it mean to avoid activity that makes symptoms worse?

Simply put, if you recognize that every time you walk further than 30 minutes your back starts to bother you and gets worse throughout the day, walking 30 minutes should be something you work back up to. 

I do not recommend cutting out the activity altogether, but rather reducing the duration of time that you are performing the activity. 

Similarly, if it’s part of your job, or you have some pain in the gym, I’d recommend reducing the frequency of the movement, or decreasing the overall weight. I wrote an article about how to modify your exercises that’s quite in-depth, here.

How Long Should I Expect Lower Back Pain to Last?

The usual time frame is 2-6 weeks for most people. For people who are generally very fit or exercise routinely, that time frame is usually a week or less. For people who are not very physically active it may take longer than 6 weeks to multiple months or even over a year in many cases of those who develop chronic back pain. 

I want to highlight that the above position that multiple months or years for the duration of back pain for those who are not as fit is a generalization and opinion, and not something that I have extensive data on. This is based on what I have seen in the clinic. 

Is there a proper way to modify exercises to reduce the chance of a flare-up of low back pain?

Yes. I wrote an article on this that you can read, here. It goes into depth. 

In brief, you can modify your range of motion, weight lifted (if lifting weights), duration, frequency (how many days/week), tempo (how fast you’re performing the movement), and modification of sets and reps of either higher or lower. 

Summary

  • Nothing is off-limits when you have lower back pain, other than movements that continue to cause significant discomfort. 
  • Take a couple of days to rest and recover, and then get back to normal activities as soon as possible. 
  • Modifying exercises is possible in a myriad of ways, don’t give up if a few don’t work, you just need to try more.