Backache? These 4 exercises help relieve chronic pain

Ten years after suffering an L2 compression fracture, later aggravated by an injury at work, Laura Barbella was in almost constant pain. She’d seen doctors, physical therapists, and a chiropractor—and tried every treatment imaginable, including massage, electrical nerve stimulation, acupuncture, epidural, and ablations. Nothing worked. Unable to even lean over the sink to brush her teeth without excruciating pain, she resigned herself to a life of pain.

At the beginning of 2021, however, the situation changed. Then Barbella saw a Facebook post from Chris Bohlin, a personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine and the creator of The Protocol ( The post read, “I help people in severe pain find relief and regain mobility without drugs and surgery.”

“I didn’t know what the protocol was,” says Barbella, “but I was willing to try anything.” In desperation, she texted him for help.

Barbella’s introduction to the protocol

“Chris explained that the protocol consists of four positions — the supine position, the seated chair position, the squat twist position, and the walking position — that reverse body trauma through a process of realignment,” says Barbella.

“It’s a physical meditation, similar to how mental meditation heals the mind,” explains Bohlin. “It removes friction and restores balance so people can move freely.”

During their first session, Bohlin created a blueprint of Linda’s pain and guided her into positions that generate circulation and release tension. Barbella says the relief was immediate. She continued to work with Bohlin three times a week, doing The Protocol moves at home on the days between their meetings. Improvement, she said, was incremental. But eventually, thanks to patience and perseverance, she stood up straight, slept better, and the numbness in her right leg — which her pain management doctor had told her would never go away — subsided.

4 exercises that help banish back pain

So what’s the protocol? Bohlin, the practitioner and creator, says it’s a series of moves that strengthen the core to create a subtle shift in body alignment, release tension, and increase stability. “We start with the first position, which is the most basic, and work our way up to the fourth,” he notes. The key is to adjust the positions to what your body can do, letting go when you feel tension. Here are four protocol poses that are effective for banishing back pain.

1. The back position

Gene Smirnov

Lying on the floor, slowly raise your legs; bend your arms at the elbow to make right angles. Flatten your back, press your legs together, make fists and tuck your chin slightly. Do not force your body to do something that feels uncomfortable. “This position evenly distributes the body’s energy to relieve pain,” says Bohlin.

2. The sitting chair

The seated chair position

Gene Smirnov

Sit on the floor, slowly lean back and raise your legs, aiming to get as close to a right angle as possible at each joint. You want to achieve the same position as in Back Pose, but sitting upright. Hold any position you can comfortably hold until you begin to feel tension in your back or hips.

3. The squat twist

The squat pivot position

Gene Smirnov

This standing position helps stabilize the lower back. Stand with your legs together and bend your knees, aiming to make right angles at your knees, hips and ankles. You can let your heels come off the floor.

Fan your arms out to the sides, making right angles at your shoulders and elbows; make fists. If you can, twist your entire body from side to side until you feel tension in your knees, back, or feet.

4. The running position

The running position.jpg

Gene Smirnov

“This position has more movement, so being aware of how your body feels can help you adjust your alignment, which ultimately takes away the pain,” says Bohlin. Run or march in place, landing on the balls of your feet. Aim for right angles at your hips and knees and pump your arms at right angles at your elbows. Continue until you feel tension in your knees or feet.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First for women.

Backache? These 4 exercises help relieve chronic pain

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top