Why You Should Exercise
Back pain is one of the most common complaints people have. Probably the last thing you want to do when you have lower back pain, is exercise. But the best thing for your back to do, as any doctor, therapist, or personal trainer would tell you, is exercise. It will help recovery and hopefully prevent more pain in the future. However, you have to be very careful not to make the pain any worse.
After having consulted a doctor to make sure there is no serious underlying cause of your back pain, make sure that you start moving. But start slowly. If your back pain is very bad, just start with walking. The circulation of the blood will bring fresh oxygen to the affected area, which will reduce inflammation and ease the pain as a result. Some discomfort is normal, but stop if you feel serious pain. If your back pain is worse after exercising, you overdid it.
If the acute pain has passed and you are feeling more of a nagging chronic back pain, start doing some strength exercises. It is important to strengthen the muscles that surround the lower back, i.e., the abdominal muscles, the hamstrings, and the glutes. These muscles support the back and if they are strong, they can prevent future back pain. However, you have to be careful to make sure that your exercising does not aggravate the back pain. Depending on the cause and intensity of your lower back pain, some exercises may be more appropriate than others.
- Avoid Toe Touches
Tight hamstrings can cause lower back pain. However, toe touches can further aggravate the pain by overstretching back and hamstring muscles. Toe touches put also greater stress on the disks and ligaments in your spine if you round your back too much.
- Do Lying Hamstring Stretches
Lie on your back with one knee bent and foot flat on the floor. Loop a resistance band or towel around the balls of the other foot and extend it up perpendicular to the floor. Gently pull on the band or towel until you feel a stretch down the back of the extended leg. Hold for about 30 seconds and repeat several times on both legs.
- Knee to Chest Stretch
While lying on the back with the knees bent and both heels on the floor, place both hands behind one knee and bring it to the chest, keeping the other foot flat on the floor. Keep your lower back pressed to the floor, and hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Then lower your knee and repeat with the other leg. Do this 2 to 4 times for each leg.
- Bottom to Heels Stretch
Kneel on all fours, with your knees under hips and hands under shoulders. Don’t over-arch your lower back. Keep your neck long, your shoulders bac k and don’t lock your elbows. Slowly take your bottom backwards, maintaining the natural curve in the spine. Hold the stretch for one deep breath and return to the starting position.
- Knee Wipers
Lie on your back. Place a small flat cushion or book under your head. Keep your knees bent and together. Keep your upper body relaxed and your chin gently tucked in. Roll your knees to one side, followed by your pelvis, keeping both shoulders on the floor. Hold the stretch for one deep breath and return to the starting position. Repeat 8 to 10 times, alternating sides.
- Back Flexion Exercise
While you are lying on your back, pull both knees to the chest while simultaneously flexing the head forward until a comfortable stretch is felt in a balled-up position.
Hips and Glutes
- Hip Stretch
While standing with feet shoulder-width apart, take a half-step back with the right foot, bend the left knee and shift weight back to the right hip. While keeping the right leg straight, bend forward more and reach down the right leg until a stretch in the outer hip is felt.
- Piriformis Muscle Stretch
The piriformis muscle runs through the buttock and can contribute to back pain or leg pain. To stretch the this muscle, lie on the back and cross one leg over the other and gently pull the knee that is supporting the other toward the chest until a stretch is felt in the buttock area.
- Avoid Sit-ups
Full sit-ups tend to put pressure on the discs in your spine. If you have a weak core as many people who suffer from lower back pain do, then you are not using only your abdominals as you do a sit up, but you use hip and back muscles, which further aggravates the pain.
- Do Partial Crunches
Partial crunches can help to strengthen the abdominals and back muscles. Lie on your back with your knees bent and the feet flat on the floor. Cross your arms across the chest and lift the shoulders off the floor by contracting your abdominals. Breathe out on the way up, breathe in back down. Make sure your lower back, feet and tailbone stay in contact with the floor at all times. Repeat as many as you can do with proper form.
- Avoid Leg Lifts
Leg lifts are a great exercise to strengthen your core, however, only if you have enough core strength to do them properly without lifting the lower back off the floor. When you suffer from lower back pain, this exercise can make the pain worse.
- Do One Leg Leg Lifts
Instead, try lying on your back with one leg straight and the other leg bent at the knee. Keep your lower back flat on floor. Slowly lift the straight leg up, about 6 inches and hold briefly. Lower leg slowly. Repeat 10 times, then switch legs.
- Wall Sits
Stand 10 to 12 inches from the wall, then lean back until your back is flat against the wall. Slowly slide down until your knees are slightly bent, pressing your lower back into the wall. Hold for a count of 10, then carefully slide back up the wall. Repeat 8 to 12 times.
Lie on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders. Push with your hands so your shoulders begin to lift off the floor. If it is comfortable for you, put your elbows on the floor directly under your shoulders and hold this position for several seconds.
- Arm and Leg Raises
Start on your hands and knees, and tighten your stomach muscles. Lift and extend one leg behind you. Keep hips level. Hold for 5 seconds, and then switch to the other leg. Repeat 8 to 12 times for each leg, and try to lengthen the time you hold each lift. Try lifting and extending your opposite arm for each repetition. This exercise is a great way to learn how to stabilize the low back during movement of the arms and legs. While doing this exercise don’t let the lower back muscles sag. Only raise the limbs to heights where the low back position can be maintained.
Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on floor. Tighten your stomach by contracting it as though you were preparing for a punch. You’ll feel your back pressing into the floor, and your hips and pelvis rocking back. Hold for 10 seconds while breathing in and out smoothly. Repeat 8 to 12 times.
Lie on your back with knees bent and just your heels on the floor. Push your heels into the floor, squeeze your buttocks, and lift your hips off the floor until shoulders, hips, and knees are in a straight line. Hold about 6 seconds, and then slowly lower hips to the floor and rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 to 12 times. Avoid arching your lower back as your hips move upward. Avoid overarching by tightening your abdominal muscles prior and throughout the lift.
- Weight Lifting
Done properly, lifting weights doesn’t usually hurt your back. In fact, it may help relieve chronic back pain. But when you have acute (sudden) back pain, putting extra stress on back muscles and ligaments could raise risk of further injury. Ask your doctor whether you should lift weights, and which exercises to avoid.
Aerobic exercise strengthens your lungs, heart, and blood vessels and can help you lose weight. It also increases the flow of blood and nutrients to back structures which supports healing, and can decrease the stiffness in the back and joints that lead to back pain. While many patients with back pain are able to participate in vigorous exercise like running or step aerobics, others find it easier to engage in low-impact exercise, which does not jar the spine. Start with short sessions and build up over time. If your back is hurting, try swimming, where the water supports your body. Avoid any strokes that twist your body.
Patients who regularly undertake aerobic exercise to condition the back will benefit in several ways:
- They have fewer episodes of low back pain, and will experience less pain when an episode occurs.
- They are also more likely to stay functional (e.g. continue working and carry on with recreational activities), whereas those patients with chronic low back pain who do not engage in aerobic exercise are more likely to experience the gradual loss of functional capabilities.
- It is easier to control weight, decreasing the stress placed on the spine structures and joints.
- An increased production of endorphins after 30 or 40 minutes of exercise can combat pain. These bio-chemicals are the body’s natural painkiller, and frequent release of them can help patients reduce their reliance on pain medication. Endorphins can elevate mood and relieve symptoms of depression, a condition common in those with back pain or a back injury.
As with any kind of exercise, always consult your doctor first. Make sure you tell your personal trainer what your limitations are and whether you feel any pain anywhere, before you start your workout. An exercise done wrong or unsuitable for your condition does more harm than good.