When your back is aching, going to the gym may be the last thing on your mind. However, exercise is usually more beneficial than bed rest.
For years, doctors told their patients to lie down, but that thinking has changed. Moving promotes healing in several ways:
● You relax and strengthen your muscles.
● You increase your circulation, bringing more oxygen and nutrients to your spine.
● Plus, you boost your mood, which increases your motivation and helps you deal with the depression that sometimes accompanies chronic pain.
If you’re one of the 80 million Americans who report having back pain each year, exercise is part of the solution. Try these suggestions for protecting and strengthening your back.
Tips for Exercising with Back Pain
While working out can help you deal with a sore back, it’s important to be careful to avoid further injury. Design a gradual program that will keep you safe as you build your fitness.
Try these strategies:
1. Listen to your body. A little discomfort is natural when you start exercising, especially if you’ve been sedentary for a while. Discontinue any movements that cause sharp or persistent pain. Watch videos or work with a trainer to find safer substitutes.
2. Work your core. Strong abdominals will help support your lower back. To avoid putting pressure on your sore spots, look for options like planks, bird dog, and bridge.
3. Check your form. Maintaining proper posture is even more important when your back hurts. Tighten your core and avoid arching your back. Observe others at the gym or watch yourself in a mirror.
4. Warm up. Start off gradually to raise your body temperature and protect yourself from injury. Ride a stationary bike at low speed for 5 minutes or swing your arms while marching around.
5. Stretch your muscles. Increase your flexibility and range of motion. Instead of bouncing, do static stretches where you hold yourself in a comfortable position for 10 seconds or more. Be sure to warm up first or stretch at the end of your workout.
6. Lighten up. Be gentle with yourself when you’re having a flare up. Choose low impact activities like water aerobics. Decrease the amount of weight you lift.
Other Suggestions for Preventing Back Pain
The rest of your lifestyle matters too. Your daily habits can help minimize discomfort and keep your spine healthy.
These techniques can help:
1. Straighten up. Correct posture helps your back and your overall health. Familiarize yourself with the 3 natural curves in your back. Maintain them when you’re sitting and standing.
2. Sit less. Prolonged sitting is a major cause of back pain, especially if you slouch. Get an adjustable desk that allows you to stand up for part of the day. Take breaks to walk around and stretch your body.
3. Eat healthy. An anti-inflammatory diet is another powerful tool that promotes healing. Consume lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats. Minimize ultra-processed foods and red meat.
4. Sleep well. Your mind and body need 7 to 9 hours of quality rest each night. How you sleep can also directly affect your back. Test different mattresses and sleep positions to see what works for you.
5. Lose weight. Being overweight makes your body work harder. If you carry those pounds around your waist, they can also create a pelvic tilt that strains your lower back. Slim down with a balanced diet and an active lifestyle.
6. Manage stress. Chronic tension is another source of inflammation. Enjoy relaxation practices like doing something you love or listening to music.
Physical activity plays an essential role in rehabilitating your back. Talk with your doctor about your individual needs and make safe exercises part of your regular routine.