Find the Best Back Pain App for You

Studies suggest using a back pain app can enhance your recovery when combined with exercise and other conservative treatments. Here’s what’s available in your favorite apps store.

As anyone who has low back pain (LBP) knows, pain interferes with sleep and can mess with your outlook and enjoyment of life.  Globally, LBP is one of the leading causes of disability.

Woman using back pain appBack pain treatment goes digital. Here's what's available in your favorite app store.

A 2019 study in Journal of Clinical Medicine suggests that physical exercise may lessen symptoms more effectively than inactive interventions, such as spinal manipulation therapy. Exercise also reduces anxiety and boosts mood. But most people find starting and sticking with exercise daunting.

There’s hope, though: People who use apps to guide them in exercises and meditation decrease their pain more than those who stick with standard care. Ready to put that smartphone or tablet to work on helping your back feel better? Here’s what we know about back pain apps.

How Back Pain Apps Can Help

Several of these apps make use of the brain-body connection, offering exercises for the body and meditation to help the mind relax.

“The brain is like the laptop. The hardware is the body; the software that runs it is the mind,” said pain psychologist Les Aria, PhDin an interview on the Curable podcast, Like Mind, Like Body. “The brain is closely connected to the nervous system. The mind is really crucial,” he said, citing a 2016 study in the Journal of Pain, which concludes that psychosocial and behavioral interventions that work with the mind have been shown to reverse the negative thoughts that plague people with chronic pain within months.

Hate to exercise? Back pain apps help address some of the common barriers to exercise – they’re ready when and where you are; they track your progress; many match guidance messages based on your responses; and they provide positive reinforcement we humans are wired to appreciate, finds a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published in December of 2020. But before you start, if you answer ‘yes’ to any of the following three questions, one of the apps recommended by researchers suggests consulting with a physician first:

  • Do you have leg pain?
  • Do you have constant, nightly pain?
  • Do you have a history of a recent accident or injury?

Scientific Evidence for Effectiveness of Back Pain Apps

A 12-week controlled trial, published in NPJ Digital Medicine in 2019, with people who have LBP suggested that those who used an app did statistically better lessening their pain compared to the control group. Called a digital care program, it consisted of sensor-guided exercise therapy, education, cognitive behavioral therapy, team and individual behavioral coaching, activity tracking and symptom tracking. For those in the treatment group who completed the program, their pain level on a 100-point scale plunged 62 percent, from 44 to 14, compared to an 8 percent dip in the control group, the NPJ Digital Medicine study concluded.

While scientific evidence on particular apps is limited, a few apps that use exercise for LBP studied by scientists have passed muster: Kaia, Healo and Healthy Spine & Strait Posture. A 2019 study in JMIR mHealth and UHealth found these apps to help manage the stress and mind-body pain connection:

  • Curable
  • PainScale-Pain Diary
  • Coach
  • SuperBetter

Another review of 25 apps for LBP found the higher the price, the higher the app scored in the scientific study. The apps with the top three score recommended strengthening, stretching and core stability exercises and were found to be interesting, entertaining, interactive and customizable, the authors wrote in the chapter in “Best Practice & Research Clinical Rheumatology,” published in 2016. Lower Back Pain App, developed by a physiotherapist, scored the highest in this study. In the 10-week program, users are directed each week to perform three exercises twice daily. The exercises focus on spinal mobility, stability and muscle strengthening, and instructions are given through videos and in writing.

Back Pain Specific Apps

Kaia Health

In another 2019 NPJ Digital Medicine study of those with less than a year of back pain, a 12-week regimen with the Kaia app lessened back pain more than physiotherapy in combination with online education. The Kaia app is only available to those whose employer offers it, and not for those in the gig economy.

For those who can access the app through their employers, the New York-based company provides live artificial intelligence (AI) feedback to users on positioning for exercises. Users place their smartphone or tablet with the camera facing them as they do the exercises, and, if they slip into the wrong position or stance, the AI voice guides them on correct form, such as to straighten their back while performing an exercise. It also counts repetitions, keeps records of progress and coaches the user through each exercise.

Healo and Healthy Spine & Straight Posture—Back Exercises 

Both Healo and Healthy Spine & Straight Posture scored well in a study on apps designed to use exercise to help with LBP. Another, Curable, received high ratings in the study and includes a neuroscience pain-based intervention program.  

3 Steps to a Pain Free Back

This app begins with education and advice, followed by exercises for pain relief, then exercises for muscle strengthening.


Designed for an iOS platform and not available on Android, a physiotherapist demonstrates 31 exercises users can perform during microbreaks in their day. Users can schedule breaks from sitting to perform these exercises.

Why not try one of these apps to give you the guidance and exercises to strengthen your back, help you relax and lessen your pain? 


Updated on: 08/23/21
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