So you’d want to know how to prevent back pain with exercise? The first thing to note is that the amount of exercises that you think are GOOD for the back can sometimes be BAD and hurt your back even more! Let’s take you through it!
The trunk, or torso, of the body plays a very large and important role in making everyday movements possible. When the back or core muscles become weak, injured or painful, all movement may seem difficult, strenuous and painful.
Approximately 8 out of 10 Americans suffer from back pain, the most common being lower back pain, and 54% of those sufferers are desk-workers and not those that spend all day on their feet!
In recent years both physical activity and the importance of healthy eating, have become more mainstream. In today’s “D.I.Y” driven society, an ever-increasing number of people are beginning to make their health a priority; one can find almost any kind of workout online for little to no cost and the mere fact that it is easy to access has increased its appeal immensely.
When working on any goal one wishes to achieve it must be S.M.A.R.T: Small, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. Starting small is the most important – especially when the decision is made to implement an exercise routine.
To simply dive in to physical activity and assume that is “easy”, or going full steam with any machine, could be dangerous, especially for the sedentary or the desk-workers that only get up a few times throughout the day.
Sitting at a desk, on a couch or in a chair can lead to poor posture that can weaken the back and core muscles, so it is also important to know one’s limits. It may have been possible to do 100 crunches ten years ago, but that is most likely not realistic right now. Start small and work back up to the 100. ALWAYS listen to your body, if there is pain that lasts longer than 15 minutes, do not just “push through the pain”.
Stop and assess your body’s needs. there is also a device called “The Muse”, which is a great meditation tool. I wrote my 300-day experience using The Muse, in case you want to read it.
How Does Exercise Affect Your Physical Health?
Physical activity, when done properly, has not only proven itself beneficial outwardly but internally as well. Exercise builds muscle and increases muscle strength, it also helps keep the joints lubricated so that simple movements such as walking, sitting or bending remain simple.
Then, of course, there is the ever-present battle with weight loss or maintenance; activity helps ramp up weight loss efforts, but it also plays an important role in maintaining a healthy weight once a goal has been reached.
It only takes a quick glance at a magazine rack to find evidence that working out or exercising also increases aesthetics. Working the back specifically, increases spinal stability, decreases the likelihood of injury and improves posture – this last, having a direct effect on one’s feeling of confidence as an added bonus.
The internal effects of physical activity are vast and lead to a longer, more healthy life. As we age the body changes; blood flow slows down, which leads to an increased blood pressure, cholesterol tends to creep up, and the risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer and diabetes increases as well. The ONE thing that can help keep all of these in check is exercise and as an added incentive, it also helps keep the need for medications to a minimum.
With the increased use of mobile technology like this, back and neck pain is caused by poor posture and continuously having to bend the neck to text, read or really anything else. Just the simple exercise of looking up can literally decrease back and neck pain.
As with any exercise, there are some movements that are beneficial in easing and preventing back pain and some to be avoided that may make pain worse or even become the cause of the pain.
*It is best to consult a primary care physician before beginning any exercise.
1) Hamstring Stretches
Doing these while lying on the floor, rather than stretching while standing, makes them more gentle on the back and provides ease of posture. Bending one knee loop a towel or tension band under the ball of the opposite foot. Slowly straighten the knee as you hold the towel or band pulling gently, feeling a slight stretch to the back of your leg.
2) Wall Sits
These can be done anywhere, whenever few free seconds and an empty wall are found. Place feet on the floor about 2 feet in front of the wall then slide the back down said wall until you reach a comfortable sitting position. The back is protected from poor posture as the wall provides stability.
3) Knee to Chest
Lie on the back, bring one knee to the chest keeping the other knee bent and the foot flat on the floor This is a great way to keep your back stabilized while working the muscles and can help ease or reduce pain without exacerbating it.
4) Pelvic Tilts
Both the core and back muscles are engaged here and keeping them strong will ease back pain and decrease the likelihood of recurrence. Lie on the back and engage the abs, pulling the belly button back toward the spine. Repeat this minor movement for a self-administered back massage too.
Using one leg at a time, instead of both legs simultaneously, will ensure that the lower back is protected by decreasing the work it may have to do to compensate for a weak core area.
6) Pilates and/or Yoga
Specific poses used in yoga and Pilates, such as a partial cobra or the bird-dog pose help prevent back pain. They not only strengthen but also engage the core. The idea is balance in all things; if the back is being worked its opposite must also be worked, that being the core. YOGA is a good example as to how to prevent back pain with exercise.
Practicing correct posture in everyday life will also prevent back pain. To do this one must remain mindful of their body alignment; imagine trying to balance one vertebrae on top of another while to reaching the crown of the head toward the sky.
Exercises That Can Cause Back Pain
Though not an exercise, prolonged resting, or “bed rest”, may lengthen the amount of time that back is in pain. Everything in motion tends to stay in motion so this helps keep the back muscles from becoming stiff and therefore increasing the pain.
1) Toe Touches
Bending forward to touch one’s toes may lead to overstretching the back and hamstring muscles as well as pulling on the ligaments and discs of the spine, putting greater stress on these parts than is necessary.
2) Full Sit-ups
Most people envision this “traditional” form, and some of us were even taught to do them before crunches became popular. However, they put a ton of stress on the back as you try to sit up all the way AND keep your abs engaged AND your feet firmly on the floor. Many times, a common mistake here is to pull up using the leg and back muscles instead of the core muscles which can cause pain and injury to the back.
3) Leg lifts (both legs at the same time)
This exercise is very demanding on the core muscles as well as the back and may increase pain. If your trunk is weak or has been unworked for a period avoid this movement until your muscles become stronger.
4) Overhead Weight Lifting
Doing any over-the-head movements with added weight puts more pressure on the back and causes the spinal column to compress.
5) Torso Twists
Twists also put too much pressure on the spine and are easy to overdo by twisting too far in one direction or another.
The tendency for the back to round while spinning is very high and is poor posture even while riding a bike (doesn’t have to be a real one). Poor posture creates or sustains weak muscles in the back that cause pain.
How Much Exercise is Enough or Too Much
So, you wanted to know how to prevent back pain with exercise – How much to exercise is an equally important question to consider.
For physical activity to be of maximum benefit it must be done on a more consistent basis and the routine must be easy to maintain. Since 2006 the recommended amount of activity, in general, for adults across the board is at least 30 minutes per day. Doing just those 30 minutes can help with weight maintenance but to lose weight it is ok to increase exercise time up to 90 minutes per day, though this depends on one’s skill level, endurance and the amount one has to lose.
The most common reasoning behind not exercising is lack of time. Most people are, by now, familiar with the 30 minutes statistic, but most people ALSO assume that the 30 minutes must be done all at the same time.
By practicing shifting the mindset to: 30 minutes of movement THROUGHOUT the day, the whole idea of exercise is less cumbersome. An important thing to consider as this mind shift solidifies itself, is that exercise is not just defined by using weights or Jazzercise or even yoga; any and all movement that one does throughout the day is considered exercise.
The activity monitor craze helps to illustrate this idea by giving credit for all that is done THROUGHOUT the day such as multiple trips up and down the stairs for laundry.
If 30 minutes is thought of as broken up then if one says “I just don’t have time” it becomes a matter of priorities rather than finding a 30-minute block of time where all the stars align, and time all to yourself may be found, uninterrupted.
If the statement is changed then to “it’s not a priority” as opposed to “I don’t have time” one realizes that they themselves have not been made a priority, a truly profound realization and one that may help change how exercise is viewed entirely.