Take care of your back with exercise

Even when exercise is the last thing you feel like doing while suffering from low back pain, it could very well be one of the best remedies. The aches and discomfort of back pain are often relieved by strengthening and stretching your back, core and leg muscles. So when you just feel like lying on the couch, you’d do better to get on the floor and do a few exercises and stretches.

Be picky, however, about what movements to do. Some exercises are beneficial for back pain, while others may only make it worse. If it’s been ages since you exercised, you’ve recently suffered a back injury, or your pain is unbearable, check with your doctor or physical therapist before starting a new exercise program.

Tight muscles aggravate back pain, so one of the best ways to loosen things up is by stretching.

The hamstring muscle extends from your lower back down your leg. Stretch this muscle by lying on your back and bending both knees, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Gently pull one knee up toward your chest while you hold your back flat against the floor. Hold this position 20 seconds, lower your leg down and alternate knees. Repeat several times on each side.

A second stretch that helps the lower back is a press-up back extension. Lie on your stomach and place your hands under your shoulders. Slowly lift up and either rest on bended elbows or straighten your arms so your back is arched. Hold for 20 seconds, lower to the starting position and repeat.

Another helpful stretch is the bridge. Lie on your back, bend your knees, and place your heels on the floor. Now, squeeze your glutes and lift your hips up so your knees, hips, and shoulders are in a straight line. Avoid over-arching your back. Hold a few seconds, lower your hips, rest for 10 seconds and repeat.

Any number of exercises can be used to strengthen your back, leg and core muscles. Pilates, yoga and exercise ball activities are great options as they can be tailored to those with back problems. When done correctly, lifting weights is generally safe and even recommended for back pain relief. Work with your trainer or therapist for the best weight training movements for your condition. Even aerobic exercises are needed for a strong, healthy back. These types of activities get blood and nutrients pumping to your muscles to promote healing and help you lose weight, which relieves pressure from your back. Two smart aerobic exercises for those with back pain include walking and swimming.

Not all exercises and stretches are safe for back-pain sufferers. One of the more damaging stretches is standing toe touches. Bending down to touch your toes while keeping your legs straight places great stress on your spine and can overstretch your hamstrings and the muscles of your lower back. Leg lifts (raising both legs while lying on your back) are a second stretch that can harm your lower back. And while sit-ups are a popular abdominal exercise, they can put a lot of stress and pressure on your lower back and spine.

When it comes to aerobic exercise, high-impact activities like jogging or jumping on the trampoline and sports that require bending and twisting such as tennis, basketball, or football should be avoided to protect your back and prevent further injury.

Being overweight places extra pressure on your spine and can push vertebrae out of alignment. Treat and prevent back pain by obtaining and maintaining a healthy weight.

Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.

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