Apps for Back Pain

by Molly Bradley, Guest Blogger In this age of prolific technological development – where no matter what you need, “There’s an app for that!” – I’d been wondering how effective and accessible these apps really are when it comes to things that specifically defy digitization: namely, things that involve exercise, yoga and physical therapy.

In a somewhat belated gesture, for Christmas of my freshman year of college – my first year away from home – my mother bought the family a Wii. She also bought and informally assigned a game to each member of the family: I got Guitar Hero, my older sister got MarioKart, my mother bought a Survivor-style game for herself, and my father received the WiiFit.

“Is this some kind of a hint?” he asked, as we sat in the living room in an ocean of wrapping paper.

“It’s for all of us,” my mother said, comfortingly. “But you did say you wanted to get moving.”

We set up the WiiFit, setting the Balance Board an appropriate distance from the screen. My father stood on it to create his Mii, the small person-like avatar meant to represent him as he jogged, did strength training and balance exercises, aerobics and yoga.

Before he could begin, the system calibrated his body on the board, and he took a fitness test. After a series of queries and challenges, the game announced with incongruous cheer, “You’re Overweight!” The words floated on the screen in colorful letters.

“Hey,” he said. “I don’t work this hard to make money to pay for things that put me down.”

“Come on,” my mother said. “Just go with it.”

Grumbling, he chose his first activity: a jog on a dirt path through a simulated park. The faux-sky was blue with cartoonish clouds, and the trees were vibrant and pixelated. There were plenty of other joggers out on the path, and every single one of them was in better shape that day than my father: each one of them passed him on the path.

wiifit running
wiifit running

“What’s the deal?” my father said, trotting in place on the Balance Board.   

As each avatar passed, it would turn around and give my father a cheeky wave.

“This is bullsomething,” said Dad.

He didn’t use the WiiFit after that, opting instead for other outdoor activities. But the rest of us took turns fiddling around with it. It proved a very useful and decently intelligent fitness resource: ideal for wintertime in the city, when going outside to run or bike is not only daunting but risky. But this digital sport was such a bully that none of us cared to engage with it once the weather improved.

We made more use of a different fitness game, WiiSports, which is designed more for entertainment than for specific fitness goals. The day after my sister and I played our first round of tennis, we found ourselves with very sore deltoids.

“What do you know? This actually works,” she said. “I never would have gotten myself together to actually go play tennis somewhere.”

Virtual exercise only works if you do it. Exercise apps can get you going. They can help you set goals, track your progress, and convince you to try something you otherwise wouldn’t do. IPads and tablets offer the advantage of being able to set up the app wherever you are: on the ground, on the road, on the go.

The apps that seem most likely to make a difference are the ones intended to enhance health, decrease pain, and support patient recovery. The wave of health-related apps has already prompted the coinage of the term “mHealth,” for “mobile health.”

A 2013 issue of the medical journal Backletter ran a column called “Apps for Back Pain: Wave of the Future,” introducing us to back pain treatment apps for phones and tablets.

There are a slew of applications, massive repositories of videos, exercises, and sequences of movements designed to relieve pain and muscle tension. Many of them can be personalized to your needs. Here are brief descriptions of some of the most popular back pain-related apps – certainly worth checking out, although it is a good idea to consult with your health care provider before starting any new exercise.


-       Prevent Back Pain: Exercises For A Correct Posture And A Strong Lower Back (iGlimpse Ltd).

    • Compatible with: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad – requires iOS 4.3 or later
    • Cost: $1.99

This app contains a wide selection of different exercises designed to keep your posture in check and strengthen the muscles of your lower back in particular. You can search the exercises by difficulty level, by name, by muscle area, or by benefit.

backtrainer 2
backtrainer 2

Back Trainer: 100+ back exercises and workouts, on-the-go, home, office, travel, personal trainer powered by Fitness Buddy (Azumio Inc.)

  • Compatible with: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad – requires iOS 5.0 or later
  • Cost: Free

These exercises are more workouts than physical therapy or pain treatment, but nonetheless they can help you build a strong and supple back. Exercises come with photos, videos, and animation to help you perform them correctly, and you can choose from workouts that use only your bodyweight or ones that require minimal equipment like dumbbells and resistance bands. It also automatically logs your workouts and progress as you go.

-       iREHAB Back Pain ( LLC).

  • Compatible with: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad – requires iOS 3.0 or later
  • Cost: Free

iREHAB is designed to treat, as well as prevent, lower back pain specifically as you feel it in the moment: when you choose to use it, you simply answer questions about the pain you’re suffering and it provides you with the appropriate exercises to treat it. The exercises are also accompanied by a voiceover and can be viewed from different angles to make sure you understand what’s going on (which can be tough if you’re using a smaller screen like an iPhone or an iPad mini).


-       LUMOback (LUMO)

  • Compatible with: iPhones 4S & 5, iPod touch (5th generation), iPad (3rd & 4th generations), iPad mini – requires iOS 6.0 or later
  • Cost: App: Free; belt: $149

This one is a little different: it’s a combination app-and-waistband designed to help improve your posture. It’s positioned in order to detect when you’re slouching and vibrate to alert you to correct your posture. The app also functions as a general log of the time you spend walking, running, sitting, standing, and sleeping.


-       Pocket Yoga(Rainfrog, LLC)

  • Compatible with: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad – requires iOS 5.0 or later
  • Cost: $2.99

Pocket Yoga contains a far more ample array of yoga moves, sequences, and entire workouts. You can choose from a number of different practices – Ocean, Desert, Mountain, Sun Salutation A, Sun Salutation B – or simply choose from the large selection of poses, organized by posture (standing, seated, prone…), by type (backbend, balancing, twist…) or by difficulty. It guides you with vocal and visual instructions, and tracks your yoga practice each time you use the app.


-       Yoga in Bed: Awaken Body, Mind & Spirit in 15 Minutes (Vook)

  • Compatible with: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad
  • Cost: $4.99

This app comprises ten videos and a further gallery of photographs that guide you through yoga-based exercises you can do when you wake up in the morning – all without getting out of bed.

But there is one caveat: we suggest you get out of bed immediately after doing them. Your back won’t get better unless you’re standing on your own two feet.