Make a Resolution for a Healthy Back

It doesn’t have to be the start of a New Year for you to make a plan to get healthy. If you have back pain, you may want to relieve the pain by resting your back. It’s actually much healthier to keep moving. Exercise will not only strengthen your core muscles, which are key to supporting your spine, it will also help to improve many other areas of your health. An important caveat: Before beginning any new exercise or diet, however mild, it’s important to speak to a physician like Dr. Solomon Kamson first. You want to be sure that you are not doing anything to exacerbate your back issues, either by doing the wrong type of exercise or by having improper form. Here are some tips for making healthy changes:
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Choose the exercise that feels the least like exercise. If you don’t like going to the gym, don’t make that the cornerstone of your health routine. Instead, choose an activity that provides good exercise specifically for your back, but that you find enjoyable enough to do every day. For example, you might try taking a bike ride or a walk around town. The more that exercise feels like something you want to do rather than have to do, the more you’ll do it.

Change out one food at a time. If you’re worried about committing to long-term changes to the way you eat, start small. If you try to totally revamp your diet in one go, you’re more likely to give it up—cravings for your favorite comfort foods have a way of taking over. Instead of dropping everything, transition into a new diet by substituting one new item at a time. Give up one unhealthy food and incorporate one new healthy item in its place. For example, you could cut out salty deli meats like pastrami and switch to salmon or tuna salad in your sandwich (oily fish like these have back health benefits).

Try to identify habits that may be intensifying your back pain. Start keeping a calendar or a diary to help you track when you are feeling back pain. Pay attention to factors including time of day and day of the week that you experienced pain, where you were, and what you were doing. One additional item to pay attention to: How long you were sedentary that day. Being sedentary does not necessarily refer to lack of exercise here, but to the duration of time you spend sitting. It’s not just that sitting with poor support or bad posture can contribute to back pain. Recent research has found that staying seated, without getting up and moving around periodically, can contribute to many health problems.

Why Regular Exercise is Important for Back Health during Pregnancy

While there are many things you should avoid during pregnancy, exercise is not one of them. In fact, exercise can be very beneficial to support a healthy pregnancy. Exercise during pregnancy is also critical for back health. During pregnancy, the body goes through many changes. Two of these changes are a shift in the body’s center of gravity and excess weight accumulating around the abdomen. Both of these changes can cause the spinal column to naturally bend forward, which will eventually lead to lower back pain. Not only does regular exercise during pregnancy help eliminate lower back pain, it is a useful tool in weight management, spinal strength, and spinal flexibility.

Weight Management
Although you do need to gain weight for a healthy pregnancy, weight management can still be important. There is a fine line between eating enough to support your body weight and the baby’s, and eating so much that you gain excess weight—your doctor can help determine what is a healthy amount of weight gain for your body type and circumstances. Extra weight places additional strain on your back. This is the reason that finding the right balance between eating and exercise is important. If you can keep your weight at a healthy level, it will lessen the risk of back pain. Low-impact aerobic exercises such as walking, water aerobics, and yoga can help with back pain and weight management.
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Strengthening the Back
Regular exercise during pregnancy also strengthens the muscles around the back. As these muscles are strengthened, they provide extra support for the spinal cord. This strengthens the entire vertebral column of the back. As the spinal column is strengthened, it allows the spine to support excess weight and compensate for the body’s shift in gravity. Exercises such as stretching, yoga, and low-impact aerobic exercises are good for strengthening the back.

Maintaining Spinal Flexibility
Finally, participating in regular exercise throughout your pregnancy can help maintain spinal flexibility. Another complaint from women is the further they are in their pregnancy, the harder it is to bend over. This may be caused by the excess weight around the abdomen. If the spine is not strong enough or flexible enough to support this extra weight while bending, then it may cause pain. When you exercise to improve spinal flexibility, it may be easier to bend, stretch, and perform other activities throughout your day. Stretching and yoga are very helpful in maintaining spinal flexibility.

Acceptable Exercises
There are many different types of exercise that are generally considered safe during pregnancy. These include stretching, low-impact aerobic exercises, and more. Each of these types of exercise can benefit back health. To maintain your spine’s flexibility, try regular stretching exercises. These can include the pelvic tilt, side-to-side stretches, front-to-back stretches, hip rotation, waist rotation, and more. To maintain the strength of your spine, consider walking, bicycling, yoga, and other gentle exercises. If back pain is already a problem during your pregnancy, you could also try water aerobics. Spinal specialists such as Dr. Solomon Kamson of the Spine Institute Northwest often recommend water aerobics for patients experiencing back pain, because it has a very low level of impact on the back.

Exercises That Can Make Your Back Pain Worse

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
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.

Aerobics
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.

low impact water aerobics

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.

Inclined Treadmill
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.

Leg Raises
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

Exercises to Lessen Osteoarthritis Pain

Osteoarthritis of the spine is a condition that causes chronic back pain. While there is no cure for osteoarthritis, there are many ways to lessen the pain, particularly those involving physical activity. Though these exercises have helped many individuals suffering from osteoarthritis of the spine, it is important not to enter into any exercise program without the guidance of a spine and neck specialist, such as Dr. Solomon Kamson of the Spine Institute Northwest.

Practice Good Posture
While this is not necessarily an exercise, practicing good posture is one way to alleviate back pain. Good posture can be practiced while standing or sitting by aligning the spine and the hips and keeping the shoulders back and relaxed. Good posture can also help to strengthen the core muscles of the body.

Light Strength-Training Exercises
Light strength training of the back will help to keep muscles strong. As the muscles of the back become stronger, they can help to protect the spine more effectively. This can alleviate pain from causes such as osteoarthritis.

Side Stretches
One simple strength-training exercise is side stretches while holding dumbbells (though if that’s not comfortable, side stretches can be performed with or without dumbbells). Stand straight, and then stretch an arm down your side as far as possible. Slowly release to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

W Stretches
This stretch is also arthritis-friendly, helping to strengthen the muscles of the back. First, place the arms at the sides of the body. The elbows should be in, and the palms of the hands should be facing outward. This will leave the arms in the shape of a “W.” Stretch the arms back until a stretch the muscles of the shoulders can be felt. Hold this position for three seconds, slowly release, and repeat.

Walking
Walking is often used for rehabilitation, to help alleviate back pain, and to improve cardiovascular health. It is one of the lowest impact activities that can help to strengthen the muscles of the back. There are several things to consider to get the most benefit from a walking regimen. First, practice good posture and use core muscles when walking. It is also important to wear proper shoes; orthotics can be good for this. Finally, try to walk lightly on the ground, and avoid concrete and pavement when possible.

Tai Chi
Tai chi and yoga are both often recommended to alleviate back pain; however, tai chi may be more helpful to those suffering from back pain because of osteoarthritis. Yoga is a great option for building strength and flexibility, but tai chi does this without stressing the joints. Tai chi was originally a fighting technique but has transformed into a continuous stretching exercise. The movements in tai chi are very gentle. It also focuses on poses from the waist, which places emphasis on spinal stretching.

Other Tips
Taking steps to improve back pain while doing chores or work can also help to alleviate pain from osteoarthritis. When moving throughout the day, place emphasis on the movements of core muscles. This will increase strength in the back. Additionally, be sure to protect your back by bending with your knees and tensing your stomach muscles. This can be practiced every day and is a form of exercise that will not take extra time out of a busy schedule.

Q&A: Causes of Neck Pain?

Question: Dr. Kamson, I suffer from chronic neck pain that sometimes radiates down my arm and seems to be getting worse over the years. It doesn’t occur every day but I will usually feel it after exercising or other types of physical activities. What could be causing this pain and what kind of treatments are available?

Answer: There are quite a few different conditions that can cause chronic pain that people experience in the neck. Some people will also experience pain radiating down the arm which can sometimes extend to the hands and fingers. This is typically caused from a herniated disc or possibly foraminal stenosis, which pinches a nerve located in the back. Along with the pain you may also experience tingling or a numbness in the arm as well as the hand. These symptoms can develop over a period of time, but can also start suddenly.

For some people neck pain can slowly develop over the years and will typically cause pain throughout certain activities and after them. In many cases this is caused by a cervical foraminal stenosis, and the pain is usually caused from an issue at the nerve root. This can occur because of age or wearing of the facet joints in the neck or the space between the discs. This type of issue can typically be diagnosed by an MRI or CT scan, which can be reviewed for free by surgeons at our facilities.

Others may suffer from a chronic pain that falls more into the lower level category. This is when the pain can occasionally flare up after certain activities, or certain positions for an extended period of time. This cans also cause pain to be felt in the arm which can indicate a symptomatic cervical disc degeneration. Another common issue that people experience is the majority of their pain being felt first thing in the morning and towards the end of the day. Typically they don’t experience pain as long as they are moving around, but cooler or rainy days will often cause the symptoms to worsen. These are the same symptoms of those who suffer from arthritis, and is what can affect the facet joints. As you age the cartilage in these joints wears and produces pain as friction begins to develop against surfaces that are supposed to be smooth.

With chronic neck pain there are some exercises that can help relieve the pain. This consists of strengthening exercises, stretches, aerobics, and other exercises. Proper stretching can help extend your range of motion and prevent stiffness, which is what leads to pain. Strengthening the muscles in the neck can also help lower the amount of pain you experience and help with symptoms that can flare up. Keep in mind that although exercising can help relieve or temporarily eliminate the pain, there is a problem causing the symptoms you experience and can only worsen over time. The Spine Institute Northwest offers several minimally invasive procedures to effectively eliminate the issues that are causing the pain. Most procedures can take less than two hours and usually within an hour of the surgery you are able to go home and enjoy a pain free life.

Learn more about Dr. Solomon Kamson and the Spine Institute Northwest by visiting www.spineinstitutenorthwest.com

Q&A: Exercise to Prevent Back Pain?

Question: I work at a job that requires manual labor, and often suffer from back pain throughout the day. Are there exercises I can do to relieve this pain, or prevent it from happening?

Answer: This is a great question and a very common complaint from patients around the world. Almost everyone suffers from some kind of back pain from time to time. For some it can occur more often than others, the pain can be more severe, and it may last for longer periods of time. The most common area of back pain is the lower back, and this can have a big impact on your day-to-day life. In fact, back pain and back-related issues are the number one reason why people miss work every year.

There are many different factors that can contribute to back pain, particularly in the lower area. This can vary from pain caused by straining a muscle to pains associated with degenerated discs, which usually comes with age. Back pain can greatly vary from person to person, and in more mild cases of pain it can be either prevented or greatly reduced by properly stretching and exercising. When doing manual labor, if you find a certain movement or particular duty that aggravates your back, pay attention to what you’re doing, and if necessary, discuss with your doctor if there are any underlying issues. In many cases a quick stretch and being aware of your movements can make a big difference. A good habit to get into is starting the day with a stretching routine. The stretches can be very basic like just trying to touch your toes in a standing or seated position. The goal is to keep the muscles and tissues flexible, to be less prone to injuring yourself. It is also good to stretch before lifting heavy objects. The most important thing to remember when lifting is to lift with your legs, keep your back straight, hold the object as close to your body as possible, and do not twist or jerk when lifting and carrying.

By increasing activities like exercising, you can help reduce pain and aid in recovery. If you have suffered an injury, a couple of days of rest can help, but without physical activity, the pain can worsen and often lead to a prolonged recovery period. By strengthening the back, stomach, and leg muscles, you are not only less susceptible to various injuries, but this also supports the spine better, which reduces the pressure on the spinal discs. There are several different strengthening exercises like lifting weights, leg lifts, sit-ups, and many others that can aggravate the back. If this occurs, then avoid those exercises that contribute to the pain. Aerobic exercises like walking and swimming will help maintain health and help with a speedy recovery.

Physical therapy is also a great program for those that suffer from chronic pain. A trained healthcare professional can help you develop an exercise program that is safe and combines certain exercises that target your problem areas and help strengthen the muscles supporting your back. Chronic back pain can be very frustrating, and without properly stretching and exercising to strengthen the body, it can get very expensive with repeated doctor visits and missed work. Be sure to consult with your doctor prior to starting an exercise program or physical therapy. If pain still persists, there are alternative forms of physical therapy, as well as minimally invasive procedures to correct the problem if necessary.

Thank you for this great question and hopefully this has given you some answers that can help you recover quickly and prevent future injuries.