Lower back pain can make it difficult to get up and move around, so you may be tempted to put exercise on hold until you feel better. Unfortunately, that's rarely the best option.
In this post, we'll tell you how to safely work out with lower back pain so that you can put yourself on the road to recovery.
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Yes! Proper exercise is one of the best things you can do for lower back pain. While your sore back may make you want to lounge around and do nothing, inactivity will cause muscle loss and stiffness.
Resting for a short period is OK, but prolonged inactivity can actually worsen symptoms. Reduced support from the weakening muscles around the spine can increase lower back pain.
Now that you have the go-ahead to work out, what exercises help lower back pain?
Most types of exercise in the right context can help lower back pain. Unfortunately, certain exercises can worsen back pain, particularly if performed incorrectly or too early. We'll discuss both, starting with the ideal exercises for lower back pain.
Be sure to talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
Hydrotherapy has been shown to be beneficial in the fight against back pain.¹ One of the keys to reducing lower back pain is strengthening your core and the surrounding muscles.
Your core includes the muscles around your torso that support the spine as you move. Finding ways to target these muscles without straining them can be challenging. Hydrotherapy is a great option as the water’s buoyancy helps reduce the impact of exercise on your back.
Aerobic activity helps your lower back pain in a similar way to hydrotherapy. Ensure you keep your activity of choice low impact and aren't throwing your body around haphazardly.
Walking is a gentle way of reintroducing movement through the body without significant stress on your back. This is also a reliable way to lose weight, which can be an effective way of managing back pain.
Calisthenics are movements that use your bodyweight to build strength. Starting with basic activities, they gently strengthen muscles, particularly around the core and back.
Promising research has shown that bodyweight exercises may be beneficial, safe, and cost-effective for lower back pain.² However, some exercises may be better for your back than others, depending on your levels of fitness and pain.
Below are some basic exercises you can try:
Begin on your hands and knees.
Straighten your back.
Stretch one arm forward and the opposite leg backward.
Hold for a few seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Lie on your side with your hand supporting your head.
Place your other hand in front of you for stability.
Slowly lift the upper leg to a 45-degree angle and hold for a few seconds.
Repeat on the other side.
Lie on the floor with your knees up and your hands in front.
With your lower back, feet, and tailbone pressed firmly into the ground, lower your opposite arm and leg to the ground.
Return to the original position before repeating on the other side.
Isometric movements are gentle forms of exercise that engage the body’s muscles with minimal stress on the back. When observing an isometric exercise, you will notice there is no motion. While the joints are not moving, the muscles are required to lift the body into a static position.
See how long you can hold the following core-burning isometric exercises if that sounds easy.
Position yourself on the ground as though you are at the top of a pushup.
Tighten your core and keep your back straight.
Hold that position.
If you find that planking on your toes is too difficult, try performing the exercise on your knees.
Stand about a chair's distance away from the wall.
Lean back until your back is flat against the wall.
Slowly lower yourself into a seating position on an imaginary chair.
Lie on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground.
Lift your bottom away from the floor, forming a straight line with your back from your knees to your neck.
Engage your core and glutes without arching your back.
Nothing feels better than a good stretch in the morning. Reducing the tension of a tight muscle is an excellent way to relieve lower back pain.
While many people believe you should stretch before your other exercises, it's actually best to do it after, once your muscles are warm and pliable.
Below are some stretches which may give you quick relief from lower back pain. However, if your symptoms worsen while performing one exercise, stop and try a different one.
Lie on your back with both legs outstretched.
Pull your knee up to your chest using your arms.
Return to the original position and repeat with the other leg.
Lie on your stomach.
Raise your upper body, supporting yourself on your hands.
Gently arch your back until you feel a stretch in your lower back or core.
Sit up tall in a chair.
Twist your body to one side and grasp the seat of the chair on that side with both hands.
Some exercises could be detrimental for lower back pain sufferers, especially if done at the wrong time or in the wrong way. By no means is this a comprehensive list.
Some of these exercises could actually be beneficial in the long term. However, sometimes they can be commenced too early or inappropriately. If your back feels worse while doing any exercise, stop immediately.
In this exercise, you lay on your stomach with your arms and legs outstretched, mimicking Superman flying. While arching your back, the arms and legs are lifted off the ground.
Although it’s great for isolating your back muscles, the excess strain on the back might be too much for those in pain.
Lifting both legs while lying on your back is a good way to put a load on your core and give those muscles a good workout.
However, like the Superman exercise, it may be too stressful for the back initially.
These are some of the most frequently performed core exercises.
However, excessive bending of the back can lead to undue strain on the spine, particularly if you have a bulging disk.
Like sit-ups, the motion required for toe touches from a standing position can put a lot of stress on an aching back.
Becoming a couch potato can be a natural temptation for those with back pain. If you want long-term improvements, try to resist this urge. You'll be giving your body the ability to develop a more resilient back, stronger back and core muscles, and relieve the tightness around the lower back to help prevent further injury.
Ensure you pay attention to how your body responds to each exercise and stop if your symptoms worsen.