Exercising on a regular basis is advisable and can positively impact many aspects of your health. Exercise helps promote blood flow and healing to the spine. Focusing on strengthening your abdominal and back muscles will improve your spine stability making injury less likely.
Here we have compiled some helpful information on how to safely perform several common exercises. But remember, it is important to discuss your current exercise routine with your physician and physical therapist to make sure you are doing all the right things. And use caution when getting into fad exercise classes, like boot camps or CrossFit.
Cycling — Cycling offers a number of benefits to the back and neck. A great preventative exercise, riding a bicycle is both nonweight-bearing and achieves results. Dr. David Rothbart and the experts at Spine Team Texas have compiled the following list of rewards cycling can offer your back and spine and a few tips on how to get the most out of your ride:
- Riding a bike improves lower body muscular strength and overall endurance
- Biking is a nonweight-bearing exercise, so it places less stress on the spine, hips and knees
- Cycling is a great cardiovascular and conditioning exercise
- Stationary bikes offer benefits when weather conditions prevent hitting the roads and trails
- Regular exercise can increase your flexibility, which reduces your risk of back pain and injury
- Cycling engages your glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings
- Be sure to use the right kind of bike for the terrain on which you're riding—taking a street bike to off-road trails will be rough. You'll end up with a flat tire and a sore back.
- Have an experienced professional fit you for the proper type and size of bike in order to prevent accidents and injuries.
- Ride with your back straight—this will prevent lower-back stress and can improve your posture.
Swimming —Swimming is also a phenomenal exercise for those looking to prevent or recover from back pain. This aerobic exercise is joint-friendly and can help build muscle without strain, as it does not place weight on the back. If you currently suffer from back or neck pain, be sure to consult your physician before beginning a swimming regimen as certain strokes may irritate your condition. Additionally, water aerobics is a very low impact cardiovascular workout that can strengthen muscles and endurance.
Elliptical work — These machines have cropped up in gyms across the country during the last few years, and many who suffer from low back pain are reaping the benefits. Unlike a treadmill, walking or running on an elliptical machine does not cause harmful pressure to joints, thus it delivers a good cardiovascular workout that is low impact while helping to improve lean muscle mass. Elliptical machines also use a passive motion, stopping when the individual stops, which can be safer than a treadmill. For all exercises, it is imperative to maintain correct form. Maintain an upright posture on the elliptical machine and avoid stooping over, particularly when fatigue begins.
Classes — One of the best ways to obtain core body strength is to attend yoga and Pilate's classes. Yoga courses focus on stretching, breathing exercises, muscle contractions, balance exercises and meditation. Pilates classes specifically focus on the lower back and abdomen and "centering" and controlling the body. The strength and flexibility training each of these disciplines offer can be incredibly beneficial to those looking to prevent back pain as they focus on building core strength and increasing flexibility. The other ongoing benefit of these types of programs is that they help increase awareness of posture.
Strength Training — Obviously, low-impact exercises offer a great way to bolster the back. Premenopausal women especially need to consider some type of weight-bearing exercise to prevent osteoporosis. Men should also keep this in mind as well because osteoporosis in men is becoming increasingly prevalent. Working with dumbbells, cable or weight machines can increase muscle and bone strength, which becomes more important for women as they age. Exercise, in addition to taking calcium, has especially benefited premenopausal women.
One of the most important things to remember when undergoing strength training is to lift properly. Men are more likely to herniate discs than women, but proper lifting is important for both groups. Injuries often occur with BENDING or TWISTING the spine when lifting. Remember to get as close as possible to the object you are lifting. Bend with your KNEES not your back, and NEVER TWIST your torso while LIFTING OR HOLDING an object. Move as one unit. Use two people if the object exceeds your limits. To avoid injury to your neck and shoulder, NEVER reach behind your car seat to pick something up.
Strength Training Tips:
- Avoid the leg press at the gym. This has a high risk of causing a disc herniation
- Avoid dead lifts, sweeps and squats with a bar behind your neck
- Stretch your hamstrings, glutes and pectoralis muscles daily
- Perform crunches on a stability ball