Best foam roller back exercises to reduce pain and increase mobility

Check out these foam roller for back exercises to soothe soreness

foam roller for back exercises: athletic women rolling her lower back with a foam roller
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Did you know you can use a foam roller for back exercises? You’ve likely heard about the benefits of foam rolling for post-workout recovery. If you suffer from back pain, you’re not alone. Sitting for long periods can cause the muscles surrounding your back to ‘switch off’ or become stiff, often resulting in back pain. 

If your back pain is caused by inactivity, help is at hand. The best foam rollers are a brilliant way to activate your muscles and relieve soreness. They're incredibly versatile and you can use them to enhance both your warm-up and post-workout routine. 

We’ll cover the basics of foam rollers and how they can help with back pain. To get you started, we’ve also got five foam rollers for back exercises for you to try. 

Looking for relief from back pain? Check out these bodyweight exercises to ease back pain and yoga poses to soothe lower back pain. If your mattress is past its best you may want to consider investing in one of the best mattresses for back pain.

What is a foam roller?

A foam roller is a tube that you roll over muscles to relieve tension. Jude McGowan, personal trainer at F45 Noak Hill and F45 Peckham Rye, explains that it is a form of massage known as self-myofascial release (SMR). The pressure from the roller eases tightness in the fascia - the protective layer surrounding your muscles - helping to reduce pain. If you’re a beginner, foam rolling can be intense, so ease in with a softer roller. Already know how to use a foam roller? You may want to experiment with ridged or vibrating foam rollers to take the intensity up a notch.

Will a foam roller help my back pain?

Depending on the cause of your back pain, foam rolling may alleviate soreness. If inactivity is the culprit, following foam roller for back exercises can target muscles that switch off in a seated position. 

Abi Smith, a physiotherapist at Six Physio, says that some people find foam rolling helpful to relieve pain in their lower backs. “It can be a nice addition alongside physiotherapy and general exercise,” she says. “However, foam rolling isn't a substitute for regular movement. Seek advice from a health professional to rule out any underlying issues first.”

While there is evidence to support the benefits of foam rolling, experts aren’t exactly sure why it soothes pain. “This is still being debated within the research,” says Smith. “Our current understanding is foam rolling stimulates nerves that sit within muscles and this can lead to a pain-relieving effect.”

5 exercises to try for back pain

McGowan suggests the following foam roller for back exercises to soothe muscle pain. Remember to take your time to find the right alignment to reduce the risk of injury.

1. Glutes

Woman doing glutes foam roller exercises

(Image credit: Getty)

To support the strength and stability of your lower back, it’s important to relieve any tension in your glutes, which will also assist in loosening your legs.

  • Sit on top of your foam roller, which should be placed exactly beneath your sitting bones. For additional support, place your hands behind your hips.
  • Place your feet flat on the floor and bend your knees.
  • Place your right ankle on top of the outside of your left knee.
  • Start slowly leaning to the right. You’ll feel a stretch in your glutes.
  • Hold each area of the glutes for up to 30 seconds. Then do the opposite side.

2. Lower back

Man doing lower back foam roller exercise

(Image credit: Louise Bond)

This exercise is designed to reduce lower back tension, but don't apply too much pressure to the area.

  • Place the foam roller horizontally underneath your lower back while lying on your back.
  • Place your hands behind your thighs or on your shins and bend your knees upwards into your chest.
  • Lift the left side of your lower back off the roller by gently shifting your weight to the right side.
  • Stay in this position for a few seconds. Then rock slightly to the left. 
  • Continue shifting your body weight from side to side for up to one minute.
  • Repeat two to three times.

3. Core

Two women doing core foam roller exercises

(Image credit: Getty)

McGowan recommends this exercise to support posture, stability, and alignment.

  • Lie with the foam roller along your spine, supporting your head and tailbone.
  • Rest your arms alongside your body with your knees bent and your feet pressing into the floor.
  • Engage your core muscles as you press your lower back into the roller to reduce and relax any muscle tightness.
  • Lift your right hand and left knee toward the ceiling.
  • Lower back to the starting position.
  • Then do the opposite side. This is one repetition.
  • Perform one to three sets of 10-15 repetitions.

For a stronger core, you may also want to check out out guides to the best core exercises, L-sits and this exercise to improve core stability.

4. Spinal alignment

Man foam rolling back

(Image credit: Getty)

This exercise encourages good posture and is beneficial for people who sit for long periods. Avoid going any lower than the end of your rib cage.

  • Place the roller horizontally across your upper back, just below your shoulder blades.
  • Bend your knees and press your feet firmly into the floor.
  • Interlace your fingers at the base of your skull and lean back.
  • Raise your hips slightly to move the roller up toward your shoulders.
  • Focus on sensitive areas for at least 20 seconds.
  • Work your way up to your shoulders. Then work your way down to your mid-back again.
  • Repeat five to 10 times.

5. Upper back

Man stretching with foam roller underneath him

(Image credit: Getty)

This stretch reduces upper back stress and corrects bad posture caused by leaning or hunching forward frequently.

  • Lie down with a foam roller under your spine with your head and tailbone supported. 
  • Place your feet flat on the floor and bend your knees.
  • With your palms facing upwards, spread your arms wide and out to the sides.
  • Take a deep breath and relax for up to one minute in this position.
  • Repeat five times.
Louise Bond
Freelance Writer

Louise Bond is a writer specialising in health and wellbeing. She has over eight years of experience in management within health and care and brings this passion and expertise to her writing. Louise has been published in The Guardian, Live Science, Fit & Well, Tom's Guide, Planet Mindful, Breathe, and Psychreg. She is at her happiest when she is out in nature, whether that's on an invigorating hike or pottering in the garden.