The Best and Worst Exercises for Back Pain

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015, 9:40 pm

How to Beat Back Pain
If you think treating a backache means taking it easy, you couldn’t be more wrong. Exercise is one of the best ways to get rid of back pain and keep it from returning. “There is an exercise for almost anyone with back pain. We even start people on exercise the day after back surgery,” says Maria Mepham, a physical therapist at the Cleveland Clinic. But there are some types of movement that are more beneficial for your back than others.

Before you get started, check with your doctor or therapist — if you haven’t exercised much in the past, start slowly and work your way up gradually. One of the worst mistakes is trying to do too much too soon. Always leave time for warm-up and cool-down before and after exercise. “Let your doctor or therapist know if any exercise makes your back pain worse,” says Mepham.

Support Your Spine
You need to take care of thecore muscles that support your spine. There are many exercises that do this, and your doctor or therapist should be able to give you specific advice and training for your unique back pain condition.

“A good example of a safe strengthening exercise is the pelvic tilt,” says Mepham. To do this exercise, lie on your back with your knees bent. Tighten your stomach muscles until you can press the small of your back flat against the floor. Hold the press for about five seconds and repeat up to 10 times.
“Number one on my list of bad-for-the-back exercises is the full sit-up,” says Mepham. This is the type of sit-up done with the hands behind the head and legs out straight, and it puts too much pressure on the lower back. You should also avoid straight leg lifts done with your back on the floor.

Stretch Safely
“Keeping your core muscles limber is as important as keeping them strong,” says Mepham. “Two good stretching exercises are the knee-to-chest and the hamstring stretch.”

To do the knee-to-chest, lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bring one knee up to your chest and use your hands to pull the knee close while flattening out your back; then repeat with the other knee. The hamstring stretch is done from the same starting position. Pick up one leg with both hands placed behind your knee and then straighten your lower leg. These stretches should be held for about 20 seconds and repeated five times. Be sure to warm up before you stretch.
Stretches to avoid: “One of the worst stretches for a person with back pain is bending over to touch your toes while keeping your legs straight. Even worse is bouncing while trying to touch your toes,” warns Mepham. Other bad stretching exercises are ones that require you to bend or twist with any type of weight in your hand.

Get In the Water
An aerobic exercise is any exercise that uses the big muscles of your body in a rhythmic and repetitive way. Aerobic exercise can get blood flowing to your back muscles, which can really help them recover from injury and increase strength. Walking is a good aerobics choice for your back, but swimming may be even better if you get backaches.

“Swimming could be the best aerobic back pain exercise,” says Mepham. “Water provides both support and resistance. Almost any exercise done in the water is beneficial and safe for back pain.”

Jogging Can Be Jarring
Any type of high-impact aerobic exercise requires caution. Examples of high-impact aerobics include jogging or running (especially on a hard surface), tennis, some types of dance, and any other exercise that jars or twists the spine.

If you can’t maintain your spine in a neutral position during aerobics, you may not be able to protect your back and prevent pain. Also avoid any contact sports or sports like volleyball, soccer, snowboarding, and trampoline that put too much strain on your back, leading to a backache.

Yoga for Your Back
“Two all-around good exercise activities for back pain are yoga and working with an exercise ball,” says Mepham. Yoga is great because, as long as your teacher knows your limitations, it can be adapted safely for most people with back pain. “Few exercises combine flexibility and strength as well as yoga,” says Mepham.

An exercise ball, also known as a Swiss ball, is a large, soft, air-filled ball that can be used for stretching and strengthening. You will need some training on how to use it, but, Mepham says, “there are hundreds of great exercises that can be done with an exercise ball.” Check with your physical therapist.

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