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Self-help and information – Lower Back

Important Facts About Your Back Pain

Here is a list of the main problems and concerns we would recommend you get checked out by a health professional before commencing self-management exercises. These are called Red Flags and may indicate a more serious problem that requires medical assessment.

Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES)

Warning: CES is a rare but extremely serious spinal condition that requires immediate assessment. 

If you are experiencing the symptoms described in (1) or (2) below, then please have these checked out urgently – usually your GP if within normal hours (8:30-6pm) or call NHS 24 on 111 at other times.

  1. Significant changes in your bowel or bladder habits and/or sexual function. This includes difficulty passing or controlling your urine flow/ signs of recent bowel incontinence
  2. Changes to sensation in between your legs e.g. difficulty feeling the toilet paper when you are wiping your bottom.

Further information on CES

Symptoms That Are Present After Trauma

If symptoms are caused by a traumatic incident to your back (e.g. a fall, car accident), please have this checked out by a health professional before commencing with an exercise program.

NOTE: If you have underlying low bone density (e.g. osteoporosis) or long-term steroid use then smaller amounts of force may cause problems that require medical assessment.

Symptoms Where No Trauma Was Involved

If you feel any of the following signs develop rapidly or over a longer period of time please have these checked out by a health professional.

  • Severe restriction in the movement of your lower back and legs.
  • Sudden or newly worsening leg pain which extends below the knee
  • Changes in your balance and the way you are walking e.g. tripping, falling
  • Weakness and/ or altered sensation into both arms and/ or legs at the same time
  • If one or both feet are feeling very floppy or feel very weak on walking
  • Problems with coordination of upper and/or lower limbs e.g. writing, getting dressed, walking.
  • Pain or altered sensation around your trunk e.g. can be described as a band of pain/ numbness around the chest
  • Pain and/or stiffness in other joints at same time as low back pain developed
  • Fever and generally feeling unwell at same time as low back pain developed
  • Unexplained lumps and bumps that appear or are changing/ growing
  • Constant pain that does not change with rest or activity
  • Significant worsening night pain, unable to lie flat
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss and/or previous history of cancer
  • Increasing number of joints that are painful and/or stiff.

NOTE: Special attention should be taken if you have a history of long-term steroid/ immunosuppressive drug use, recent joint replacement, dental surgery or steroid injection. Rheumatoid arthritis or other joint disease, recent infection, previous history of tuberculosis, intravenous drug use or alcoholism.


Information leaflets/links

Lower back exercises

Please make sure you have read through the important information about lower back pain before proceeding.

Here are some exercises to help you get your lower back moving better. You may need to build these exercises up gradually.

You may be uncomfortable when you start doing these exercises – make sure the level of discomfort feels acceptable to you and that it doesn’t take too long to settle once you are finished.

The exercises should get easier the more consistently you manage to practice them and this may allow you to progress to more difficult exercises.

These are self help exercises:

  • Try to enjoy the exercises and work at a pace and level that feels safe.
  • Please use a common sense approach when deciding which ones to try.
  • The exercises listed are not designed as an alternative to professional advice.

Exercise videos

Beginner lower back exercises
Progressive lower back exercises
General lower back exercises