A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Keep moving: Exercise with back pain is possible

When you are suffering from back pain you may think the best route to recovery is give physical activity a rest. However, the opposite is true. Moving around and getting in as much physical activity you can comfortably do provides a better long-term recovery.

“When you are immobile, the tissues tend to stiffen and tighten up,” said Maureen Drewsen, Marshfield Clinic Health System physical therapist. “Immobility will also cause you to lose muscle strength and increases recovery time.”

Technique is important

Drewsen recommends paying special attention to your posture or form as you exercise. Neutral position with engaged abs is a key starting point. Stand or lie with your spine aligned straight with your stomach muscles slightly pulled in. This will provide you with a stable base to support your spine and decrease stress on the discs in your back.

Keep your muscles flexible by warming up and going at an easy pace before jumping into the strenuous portion of exercise. Aerobic activities will help you maintain general fitness. Listen to your body. Don’t push yourself if you’re starting to feel discomfort. If taking an exercise class, let your instructor know about your back issues and they can modify exercises for you.

Exercises to avoid

Activities like golf or tennis that involve quick movements and twisting create strain and pressure, which can stress the spine. Leg raises and full sit-ups are hard to do without torquing the muscles in your back and hips. You’ll also want to avoid excessive bending, like standing toe touches, or prolonged bent over postures. “If you’re biking, raise your handle bars so you aren’t leaning too far forward,” Drewsen said

When focusing on strength training, use a manageable weight, keep your body square and lift with your legs and with the weights close to your body. If you can’t maintain neutral spine, then the weight is too heavy. “Avoid heavy lifting which will strain your whole system, including back, ligaments and joints,” Drewsen said.

Know your limits

Take a break if you have pain. See your doctor if you have severe pain after exercising that doesn’t improve with rest, or if there’s numbness, tingling or weakness in your legs.

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infographic for tips of exercising with back pain

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