While lower back pain frequently arises as a result of physical activity, knowing the exercises to avoid lower-back pain can change the outcome of your training. Maintaining an active lifestyle is of utmost importance which is why decreasing this post-workout pain is crucial. Consequently, it becomes essential to identify specific back pain syndromes and avoid exercises that exacerbate the discomfort. Continue reading for comprehensive guidance on both advisable and ill-advised exercises for individuals dealing with lower back pain.
Lower back pain exercises can give you relief, but the wrong moves can leave you in even more agony – and possibly send you to the ER. These 10 expert tips will put you on the road to recovery…
Lower back bothering you?
Join the club: Two-thirds of people in the US will have lower-back pain symptoms in their lives, according to the American Physical Therapy Association.
“Most back pain is mechanical, meaning day-to-day life stresses lead to overload,” says Ted Dreisinger, PhD, a trustee of McKenzie Institute International, an advocacy group for people with musculoskeletal conditions and associate editor of The Spine Journal.
“A small number of cases – less than 1% – are caused by something more serious, such as a fracture, spinal tumor or systemic disease,” he adds. “These require medical attention.”
Also see a doctor if the pain is constant, wakes you up at night, and includes leg pain or follows an injury.
For less-serious back pain symptoms, the best way to keep them at bay is to stay active, Dreisinger says.
“The natural response to pain is to do less, but the opposite holds true” with back pain symptoms, he says. That’s because exercise helps muscles relax and increases blood flow to the area.
Here’s expert advice on what might work – and won’t – for your back pain symptoms.
1. Don’t just lie there.
It’s tempting to rest until pain subsides, but taking to bed for more than a day or two may make your back pain symptoms worse, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Simple activities are best when you’re starting to recover from pain, Dreisinger advises.
“Walking is an excellent activity to start,” he says. “Walk 10 to 15 minutes twice a day at a moderate pace.”
2. Stretch out.
“The right stretches help calm low-back spasms,” Dreisinger says.
Do these back-friendly stretches in the morning and evening, 8 to 10 times each, he advises.
Back-pocket stretch: Stand up and place both hands behind you as if putting them in the rear pockets of your jeans; look up and extend (arch) your back.
Press-ups: Lie on your stomach and place your hands on the floor as if you were starting a push-up.
Press just your upper body up, allowing your lower back to sag by keeping your hips close to the ground. Hold for a few seconds..
3. Find out which moves make lower back pain worse.
The most common back pain is “extension syndrome,” which usually causes discomfort while standing, says physical therapist Rick Olderman and author of Fixing You: Back Pain (Boone Publishing).
Causes include sitting for hours without using your chair’s back rest and habitually standing with locked-out knees (where they’re straightened to the point that they’re hyperextended backwards, putting pressure on the joint), he says.
Here’s how to tell if you have extension syndrome: Lie on your back for 30 seconds with your legs out straight. Then bend your knees so your feet are resting on the ground near your behind and wait 30 seconds.
“If your back feels better with your knees bent, you probably have extension syndrome,” Olderman says.
Tip: While standing, keep your knees slightly bent, Olderman advises. And, when lying on your back, put your feet near your behind or on a chair or bench.
Two other major back-pain categories are flexion and rotation syndromes.
“Flexion syndrome, which causes pain while sitting, is the opposite of extension syndrome,” he says.
It often results from sitting against the back of your chair too much, causing your spine to flex forward easily. This leads to tight hamstrings and weak and lengthened back muscles.
To test for it, lie on your back with knees bent and then straighten them to see if you feel relief.
Tip: If you have lower-back pain caused by extension syndrome, keep your knees bent and up on the bench while doing exercises that require lying on your back (such as chest presses) – or skip the bench and lie flat on the floor with knees bent.
Rotation syndrome occurs when the spine is more or less permanently rotated in one direction, Olderman says. It may hurt if you twist to one or both sides.
It often results from repeatedly rotating in a particular direction, such as to look at a computer monitor or reach a desk drawer or other frequently used object kept off to the side.
Avoid turning too much in either direction. Be careful with sports like tennis or golf, which can further increase the imbalance. And, consult with a professional familiar with biomechanics (such as a golf pro) who can suggest ways to modify your moves.
Also, try to center the spine through core-strengthening exercises.
4. Don’t work through the pain.
“If it hurts to bend backward, don’t,” says Marc Tinsley, DC, a chiropractor with a practice near Pittsburgh, Penn.
“Pressing into a painful position can cause further tissue damage and aggravate [existing] damage,” he warns.
Tip: If workouts hurt, focus on stabilization moves like planks, Tinsley says. Do 10- to 20- second holds for 3 to 5 repetitions.
5. Straighten up.
Slumping and slouching are often a culprit in back pain symptoms, especially among overweight or obese women, says LynnAnn Covell, a physical therapist and senior fitness specialist at Green Mountain at Fox Run, a women’s weight-loss center in Vermont.
“The pelvis can tilt to stabilize additional weight on the skeletal system, causing lower-back muscles to tighten,” she says.
Tip: If you slouch, practice good posture. Align your spine a few times a day by standing straight, lining up head, shoulders, hips, knees and feet. This helps alleviate tension when you have lower-back pain, Covell says.
And wear shorter-heeled shoes.
“Wearing high heels may also contribute to an unstable postural alignment,” she adds.