The proof: A recent study found that stretching is just as effective as yoga at reducing back pain.
Why it works: Stretching of any kind, whether static (you hold the pose) or dynamic (you move through a complete range of motion), can help improve flexibility and decrease back-pain risk and symptoms.
Try this move: Half Lunge (stretches hips, calves)
Stand with feet staggered, left leg in front. Bend front knee about 90 degrees and lower back knee a few inches from floor. Press right hip forward, feeling a stretch along front of hip. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Switch sides.
The proof: Two recently published studies found that people who practiced yoga had less pain and more mobility than those who simply followed a self-care book on back-pain relief.
Why it works: Yoga combines stretching with strength and balance poses, which help shore up weak muscles and release tight ones. It's also a stress reliever; tension can lead to a tight back.
Try this move: Child's Pose (stretches back; improves relaxation)
Sit on heels, knees hip-distance apart. Exhale and lower torso between thighs. Reach arms forward. Hold for about 30 to 60 seconds.
3. Strength Training
The proof: Physical therapists have long advocated doing traditional resistance training (using body weight only, bands, dumbbells, or machines) to improve strength and regain function, especially for everyday activities.
Why it works: It stabilizes and strengthens your entire body. "Back pain can occur when muscles are not prepared for a certain movement, whether that's lifting a heavy box or carrying a child," says A. Lynn Millar, PT, PhD, a professor of physical therapy at Winston-Salem State University.
Try this move: Body Squat (strengthens legs, glutes, core)
Stand with feet hip-distance apart. Bend knees, shifting hips back as if sitting into a chair, and lift arms. Hold for 1 count; return to start. Do 10 to 15 reps. (Sore knees? Here's a modification.)
The proof: A small Canadian study found that patients with nonspecific lower-back pain who did a Pilates workout for 4½ hours a week reported significantly less pain and disability 1 year after starting the program than those who simply followed a doctor's care.
Why it works: Pilates strengthens the core muscles that support the spine, decreasing your risk of injury. It also boosts flexibility, making it easier to move without pain.
Try this move: Pelvic Tilt (strengthens pelvic floor, deep abdominals; stretches lower-back muscles)
Lie faceup on floor, knees bent, ankles under knees. Exhaling, gently tilt hips up slightly, keeping butt on floor and flattening spine. Hold for a few seconds, then inhale and return to neutral (starting) position. Do 5 to 10 reps.