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What Exercises Are Best for Back Pain?

Walking. Swimming. Zumba. Lifting.

Your back is killing you. What’s the first thing you think of to do to help yourself feel better?

Is it:

  1. Go lay down on the couch
  2. Go to the gym and exercise

If your answer was “A”, you’re likely doing yourself more harm than good. If your answer was “B”, then you’re likely on the right track.

Gathering the motivation to exercise while you’re feeling good can be a challenge, so the notion of doing it when you’re hurting may seem counterintuitive, but studies have shown that exercise and movement are one of the best things you can do for your back.

Though it’s always advised that you speak to your physician before beginning any type of exercise regimen, it’s been well established that exercising benefits your lower back. It strengthens the muscles that help support your spine and increases circulation to joints. Perhaps more importantly, studies have shown that exercise significantly reduces pain intensity in patients suffering from chronic non-specific low back pain.

If your physician says that exercise will benefit your back pain, the only decision that you need to make is what kind of exercise you’d prefer to do. You are by no means limited in your choices: a recent study published in the Journal of Back Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation revealed that there is no difference in the effectiveness of aerobic vs resistance/strength exercises for the treatment of low back pain, and that both made a substantial improvement in pain, disability, and quality of life. Here are some of the best exercises you can do, as well as a few that you should stay away from:

  • Partial crunches – These small movement exercises can help strengthen your back and stomach muscles while avoiding excessive stress on your lower back. Avoid sit-ups, which put pressure on the discs in your spine.
  • Aerobic exercises not only build up muscle endurance and strength, they may also help you lose excess weight that is exacerbating back pain. Good options include walking, light jogging, swimming, elliptical trainer machines, and cycling. Aerobics should be done for short sessions, gradually adding both time and intensity.
  • Pilates, with its focus on stretching strengthening, and core abdominal work is one of the best practices for those suffering from back pain as long as the instructor is experienced and aware of your back issues.
  • Lifting weights can be an extremely helpful exercise for the relief of chronic back pain, but is not recommended in the face of the sudden onset of pain.

The study that compared aerobic and resistance training for lower back pain also looked at a combination of the two, and found that doing both was just as effective. One way to approach an exercise program may be to alternate days, doing strength training two or three days a week and interspersing it with aerobics on your off days. Not only is this type of movement program likely to provide relief from your back pain, but may also make you feel better overall.

Addressing chronic back pain should always start with an examination by a spine specialist. Contact our office today to set up an appointment for an examination and plan of action.