Exercises for Lower Back Pain: What to Do and What to Avoid
Back pain may make you want to rest and avoid physical activity, but it’s important to keep moving around. The best way to deal with back pain is to stay active and continue doing regular exercise. The right exercises will strengthen your back, stomach and leg muscles, making it easier for you to stay mobile and even reducing your pain. However, it’s important to know which exercises will help and which ones could be harmful.
Good Exercises for Back Pain
Aerobic exercise can sometimes help to reduce back pain. This includes walking, running, cycling and swimming. This type of exercise will keep you active, preventing your back pain from causing too much loss of mobility. It will also strengthen your lungs and your heart, and if you’re overweight, it will help you get rid of excess fat, which will relieve strain on your back. Ease yourself into aerobic exercise, starting with short sessions which you can build up over time. If your back pain makes jogging or cycling too painful, swimming might be the best option for you, as the water supports your body.
Partial crunches can be great for a bad back, as they help to strengthen your back and stomach muscles. Simply lie with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, cross your arms over your chest or put your hands behind your neck, and raise your shoulders off the floor, tightening your stomach muscles. Breathe out as you raise your shoulders, and make sure you don’t use your arms or elbows to lift yourself. Hold your raised position for a second, then slowly lower your shoulders back down. Repeat this eight to twelve times.
Hamstring stretches are good for improving posture and reducing stress felt in the lower back. Lie on your back and bend one knee, then loop a towel under the ball of your foot on the other leg. Straighten your knee and slowly pull back on the towel, so that you feel a gentle stretch down the back of your leg, and hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat two to four times for each leg. These stretches will make your hamstrings less tight, so your motion will be less limited and your back less strained.
Wall sits strengthen the lower body and, like hamstring stretches, improve posture and take pressure off the lower back. With your back flat against a wall, slowly walk your feet forward while sliding down until your knees are slightly bent. Make sure you keep your lower back pressed into the wall. Hold this position for five seconds then slide back up the wall. Repeat this five times.
Exercises which are bad for back pain
While some exercises can do a lot to relieve back pain, others will only make it worse. Toe touches, for example, are best avoided. Stretching down to touch your toes puts greater stress on the discs and ligaments in your spine, and can sometimes overstretch your lower back muscles.
Partial crunches are good, but full sit-ups are unlikely to have benefits for your back. People often assume that sit-ups strengthen your core or abdominal muscles but in fact, many tend to use muscles in their hips while doing this type of exercise. This can put a lot of pressure on the discs in your spine.
Similarly, many believe that leg lifts are a good way to strengthen your core, but lifting both legs while lying on your back can often make back pain worse. Instead, try lying on your back with one leg straight and the other leg bent at knee, slowly lifting the straight leg then holding that position briefly. Repeat this 10 times then change legs. Lifting one leg at a time will put much less strain on your back.
Remember that exercise shouldn’t cause you any serious discomfort or increase your pain. Pay attention to what your body can handle and stop doing any physical activity that you find painful. Discuss exercises for back pain with your GP before getting started, so you can find out which ones would be best for your back problems.
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