Probably one of the most commonly made resolutions, and toughest to fulfill, is the one 'to exercise'. If you have back pain, exercise is crucial to easing chronic pain symptoms and preventing future pain and back problems.
Most of us don't make all of our resolutions a reality each year, so here are some tips for really making exercise a part of your life in 2015. Begin to plan now so that as soon as 2015 is here, you are ready to implement your exercise plan.
Starting an exercise program
One of the most difficult things about exercise is just getting started. It's easy to come up with reasons to put exercise off for just another few weeks, but your back will thank you if you just do it. Here are a few tips to get going:
- Consult with a physical therapist or personal trainer. Going to a gym for the first time can be somewhat intimidating if you don't know your way around all the machines and weights. A trainer or physical therapist can get you comfortable with the various machines. More importantly, they can help to design an exercise program that is right for your unique situation (including any back problems) and demonstrate proper techniques.
- Start with low impact aerobic exercise. If you are new to exercising, your muscles, including your heart, may be out of shape. This can leave you prone to frustration (or intimidation) if you become easily winded from just a few minutes of brisk exercise. It's better to start out with low impact aerobic exercise (read 'not running') that creates less jarring on the joints. Equipment like an exercise bike or exercise ball gives a good workout with low stress. Techniques that require some initial training but provide excellent results, including relaxation, for many patients with back problems include yoga and water therapy.
- Learn simple exercises you can do anywhere. When starting to exercise, it's easy to get thrown off by schedule changes and use them as an excuse to not start and/or stop exercising. Getting busy at work, going out of town, holidays, extreme weather – these all can cause disruptions in your new exercise routine. The solution is to have some simple exercises in your fitness toolkit that can weather these disruptions and allow some amount of exercise to continue. For example, walking only requires a good pair of walking shoes and some basic knowledge of good walking technique; otherwise, outdoor pavement or a treadmill is all that you need.
- Make exercise part of your normal routine. Design an exercise regimen that fits with your unique lifestyle. If you need external motivation, work out with a friend or join a class. If you have kids, join a fitness club that offers childcare; some even have exercise programs for the kids. If you aren't a morning person, don't plan to exercise before work at 6 a.m. The key is finding what exercise program works for you.
- Use exercise goals for motivation.
When you feel a slump coming on, it can be helpful to remind yourself why you started exercising in the first place. There are no right or wrong exercise goals, but often they include one or more of the following:
- To lose weight. Overweight individuals often are at greater risk for back pain, joint pain, and muscle strain than those who are not. Weight loss is usually best achieved through a combination of exercise and diet.
- To tone your body. Not only does a toned body boost self-confidence, it has true therapeutic benefits for back pain patients. In particular, strong stomach and back muscles are important to reduce the likelihood of back pain episodes and to protect against future injury by helping the body respond efficiently to stresses on the spine.
- To simply reduce back pain. For people with back problems, the above 2 benefits of exercise may be motivating, but the greatest motivator of all may be pain relief. Lack of exercise can worsen back pain by contributing to stiffness, weakness, and de-conditioning of spinal discs, muscles, ligaments, and joints. Movement distributes needed nutrients into the disc space and soft tissues -- so get moving!
Sticking to an exercise program
To get true benefit from all your hard work and exercise, exercise must be performed on a regular basis. That usually means some form of activity for at least 30 minutes a day, 3 to 4 times per week. Here are some tips for staying with it:
For many patients with low back pain, it is usually advisable to consult a physician first, who can diagnose the patient's condition and rule out any serious contraindications, such as a fracture or tumor, for certain types of exercise.