Controlling back pain through exercise

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 in 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 three key principles. First, you must attain satisfactory aerobic fitness. Second, you should focus part of your work-out on the muscle groups that support your back. Third, you must avoid exercises that place excessive stress 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 least three times per week. Of course, you should consult your family physician and review your aerobic program before getting started. He/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 recently worked out.

Part of your work-out should stretch and strengthen 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 for these areas.

While the merits of good conditioning cannot be overstated, the wrong type of exercise may actually worsen your low back problem. 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 physician, physical therapist and health club staff, you can achieve proper physical fitness. Your low back pain may be decreased and your lifespan increased!

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