Can Exercise Control Back Pain?

Most people know regular exercise will improve their appearance and general health, but few realize the positive effects that good physical conditioning can have on their low back pain.   Many studies show dramatic improvements of low back pain in individuals who are physically fit. In addition, the person in good physical shape is much less likely than the average person to injure their back during work or daily activities.

The benefit of exercise for your low back depends on 3 key principles. First, you must attain satisfactory aerobic fitness. Second, you should focus part of your workout on the muscle groups that support your back. Third, you must avoid exercises that place excessive stresses on your back.

The ideal aerobic exercise involves the large muscle groups of your body (arms and legs) in a smooth, cyclical fashion. Recommended exercises include swimming, fast walking, cycling, and using a ski machine or elliptical exerciser. You should achieve the appropriate heart rate for 30 minutes at 3 three times per week.

Of course, you should consult your doctor and review your aerobic program before getting started. He or she can give you the appropriate target for your heart rate during aerobic exercise. It is always optimal to approach your aerobic goals slowly, especially if you have not exercised recently.

Part of your workout routine should include stretching and strengthening the muscles of your low back, abdomen, pelvis, and thighs. Flexibility in these areas will greatly decrease the chance of further injury to the back. By strengthening these muscle groups, the body’s weight distribution and posture are improved, resulting in less stress on the low back. It is best to perform these exercises after a good warm up,  such as your aerobic routine. Ask your health club staff or physical therapist for instructions on specific stretching and strengthening exercises to prevent back pain.

While the merits of good conditioning cannot be overstated, the wrong type of exercise may actually make your low back pain worse. Activities that impart excessive stress on the back—such as lifting heavy weights, squatting, and climbing—are not advised. In addition, high-impact exercises such as running, jumping, and step aerobics can aggravate a low back condition.

When walking, wear well-cushioned shoes with good arch supports and use a treadmill or a track made for athletics. Cycling on a recumbent stationary bike can relieve stress on the back.

With the help of your doctor of chiropractic, it is possible to achieve proper physical fitness and reduce or prevent low back pain.

Written by George J. Kolettis, MD

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