November 22, 2017

If you experience frequent lower back pain, probably the last thing you want to think about is exercise. While you may feel like finding a comfy position to rest in, if your doctor is recommending physical activity, you must do the exercises as prescribed.

To understand how exercise can help, you need to know the most common causes of back pain. Muscle or ligament strain, bulging or ruptured disks, osteoarthritis, skeletal abnormalities, and osteoporosis can all cause chronic or ongoing lower back pain.

Risk Factors for Low Back Pain

If you are older, or you maintain a low level of physical activity, carry a bit too much weight, have a job that requires lifting, or you smoke or suffer from depression, you have a higher risk of back pain.

An abundance of research has shown the benefits of exercise for improving parts of the body associated with back pain.

These include:

  • Increased blood flow to the back, which increases availability of nutrients and oxygen and a reduction of toxic metabolites
  • Strengthening muscles that relieve pressure from bones
  • Increased flexibility, which reduces strain from tight muscles that pull and torque the spine
  • Reduced weight that can worsen back pain
  • Increased release of endorphins that block pain and improve mental outlook and reduce stress

Do Stretching and Strengthening Exercises

Increasing the strength and flexibility of the muscles that support and stabilize the spine is key to relieving back pain, but some stretching exercises can aggravate pain as can other exercises if they are done wrong.

Here are five general stretching exercises that often help with back pain:

  • Partial sit-ups or crunches can help strengthen stomach and back muscles if done right. Try crossing arms in front of your chest instead of behind your neck. Focus on stomach and back muscles to raise your torso off the floor. Just a few inches will do; there’s no need to lift all the way up to a vertical position.
  • Hip bridge works muscles in a similar manner as crunches. Lie flat on your back with hands to your sides, and slide your heels under the knees toward your gluteals. Then lift hips off the floor to align with the torso and thighs, holding for several seconds.
  • Legs on the wall strengthens the thighs while relaxing the back. Lie on your back with buttocks close to the wall, then slide feet up the wall until legs are extended. If the hamstrings are tight, move the buttocks away from the wall until comfortable.
  • Bird dog stretches require you to start on your hands and knees and then extend opposite limbs. For example, lift the left leg and extend it out behind and at the same time try to lift and extend the right arm in front. Then switch. If balance is difficult, do each limb one at a time. Keep the lower back flat.
  • Knee to chest stretches focus on the lower back muscles. Start by laying on your back with knees up and feet flat on the floor, then slowly raise one foot up to the height of the opposite knee and hold for several seconds, then repeat with the other leg.

Don’t Twist, Torque, or Strain

Exercises that strain or torque the spine are not recommended for people with low back pain. Exercises that impact joints can also add to pain not relieve it.

Here are five exercises to AVOID:

  • Sit-ups can strengthen stomach and back muscles but put a lot of pressure on the discs in your spine.
  • Standing toe touches like sit-ups put a lot of strain on disks and ligaments in your spine.
  • Double leg lifts with weak core muscles can put too much strain on muscles and ligaments surrounding the lumbar area of the spine.
  • Lifting weights above the head and shoulders, either free weights or on a weight machine, puts a lot of stress on the spine and should be avoided when you have back pain.
  • High impact exercises like running, step aerobics, or basketball stress joints and can make back pain worse.

At Healthcare Associates of Texas, we specialize in finding the optimal treatment for you. We offer an integrated approach to your care with primary care, specialists and physical therapists working together to ensure that whatever treatment option used is the optimal treatment for your condition and your lifestyle.

We are happy to discuss your back pain treatment options and answer all your questions to ensure you get the best treatment for you. Make an appointment at one of our six locations or call (972) 258-7499.

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