There are numerous kinds of lower back disorders, so you might be surprised to learn that exercise is part of almost every long-term treatment plan for lower back pain.
The good news is that there is such a variety of exercise and fitness options that everyone should be able to find something that is enjoyable and effective.
Exercise can help heal your back
A natural stimulus for your body's healing process is active exercise, but it needs to be performed in a controlled, gradual, and progressive manner. In part, this means you need to slowly increase the intensity of your workout regimen over time.
Movement encourages healing by spurring nutrients and oxygen into the disc spaces and soft tissues in your spine (which repairs your discs, muscles, ligaments). But the converse is also true—a lack of exercise can worsen your pain, as it leads to stiffness, weakness, and de-conditioning.
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Strong core muscles reduce stress on your spine
Strong core muscles—which include your abdomen, lower back, and pelvic muscles—help support and hold up your spine. This reduces the pressure on your spinal discs, soft tissues, and joints, which in turn may bring relief from your lower back pain.
Unlike the muscles in your legs and arms, which are conditioned by your everyday activities, your core muscles don’t get much of a workout from your daily movements. This means they need to be targeted with specific core exercises to stay strong.
In addition to strong core muscles, many lower back conditions can benefit from daily hamstring stretches, as tight hamstring muscles increase the stress on your lower back.
Walking is a gentle exercise for your lower back
Exercise walking has many benefits—it helps build strength in muscle groups that hold your body upright, brings nutrients to spinal structures, improves flexibility, and encourages the production of pain-fighting endorphins. Perhaps best of all, it can also limit recurrences of lower back pain and reduce the intensity of lower back pain flare-ups.
Walking is also relatively gentle—meaning it has minimal impact on your spine. This is in contrast to exercises such as running, which can cause significant jarring to your spine.
Exercise walking involves keeping a brisk pace with strong posture for about 30 minutes (around 2 miles) 3 or 4 times a week. If you're new to exercise, try starting with 2 or 3 short walks (5 minutes) each day, and over several weeks or months work up to being able to go for 20 to 30 minutes at a time.
If walking isn't for you, you can try any of the following low-impact aerobic exercise options:
- Water therapy
- Exercise bike
- Elliptical machine
Workout with friends
For many people, one of the most difficult parts of maintaining a regular workout routine is finding consistent motivation. You are most likely a busy person, and so there are dozens of things you need to accomplish each day. This means finding the time to fit in exercise between all your responsibilities can be a challenge, and some days all you want to do is go home and rest.
On the days you simply don't feel like exercising, the encouragement of friends can help keep you going. This is why it is a good idea to find at least one friend who you can exercise with on a regular basis.
If you can't think of anyone, try contacting your local park district. Odds are they offer group exercise classes where you can connect with people who share similar exercise goals.
Speak with your doctor before starting an exercise program
While exercise is part of nearly every treatment plan for lower back pain, certain kinds of exercises may make your pain worse. For example, exercises designed to treat lumbar herniated disc pain can make back pain from from isthmic spondylolisthesis worse.
In light of this, make sure to speak with your doctor before starting any exercise program to ensure you are choosing the correct kinds of exercises to treat your specific lower back condition.
When it comes to exercise, a key is to forget the past and focus on the future. You may miss a few days, or not experience results as quickly as you would like, but if you keep going you may find long-term relief from your lower back pain.