There are several benefits regular exercise can offer for your lower back. It increases the flexibility and endurance of your spine and muscles, meaning that it can help prevent future injury. It also strengthens the core muscles of the back, which help to support the spine. Finally, regular exercise can lead to weight loss, reducing the load on your back if you are carrying a few extra pounds. Being overweight places an increased strain on the back, which can cause lower back pain.
However, not all exercises benefit your back. In fact, some can make your back pain worse, especially if done improperly. If you have a pre-existing back condition, it is best to speak with a spinal specialist such as Dr. Solomon Kamson of the Spine Institute Northwest before beginning an exercise regimen.
Running and Jogging
Both running and jogging are great cardiovascular exercises. However, sidewalks, park paths, and tracks are hard surfaces that forcefully impact the soles of the feet while running. This impact works its way up to the lower back, causing pressure. If you suffer from back pain, try walking instead. Walking is also a heart-healthy exercise, but it is not quite as stressful on the back.
Crunches are a big no-no for the lower back. They involve bending the lower spine into a stressful and sometimes painful position. Instead, incorporate planks into your workout routine. Planking works the abdominal muscles as well as, if not better than, crunches. It also reduces the amount of stress on the lower back while strengthening the core muscles of the back.
While an aerobic exercise class can be a fun way to work up a sweat and strengthen the body, it is also high-impact. Aerobic exercises often involve twisting and other movements that can have a negative impact on the back. Instead, take a swimming class. Swimming motions such as the breast and backstroke can strengthen the core muscles, as well as improve flexibility. It is also low-impact, which is critical for individuals that already suffer from back pain.
Overhead Weight Presses
When you lift weights directly over your body, it often puts excessive pressure on the spine. This can cause compression that leads to injury. Instead, do lateral raises. These allow you to work your shoulders without putting unnecessary strain on the back.
While walking on an inclined treadmill can seem like the ideal exercise to tone the hamstrings and glutes, it also puts a lot of stress on the hamstring. This stress can then reach up into the lower back. Instead, consider using a stair climber machine. A stair climber will allow you to work your quadriceps, glutes, and hip girdle muscles without harming your back.
When you lie on your back and lift your straightened legs, it can be very detrimental to spinal health. It not only bends the spine, it puts stress on it while it is bent. Instead, do reverse curl-ups. Reverse curl-ups allow you to protect your back without sacrificing the benefits to the abdominal area that leg raises offer.
Toe-Touch Hamstring Stretch
When you stretch the hamstring by touching the toes, it can cause strain that transfers into the back. Instead, stretch the hamstring without unnecessary bending. Do a supported hamstring stretch by using a chair or another flat surface as you tilt your pelvis forward. This allows you to stretch and strengthen the hamstring without harming the back.
If you would have chronic pain but would like to start an exercise regimen, however mild or moderate, it’s important that you first contact a pain management professional like Dr. Sol Kamson of the Spine Institute Northwest.
Photo: Peter van der Sluijs