Today, I want to talk great ways to exercise with low back pain. I want to specifically focus on exercises that are low impact but can yield great results. I will also tell you a little about my personal story with back problems and then get into some of the things that helped me along the way.
Why is exercise good for low back pain?
We rely on muscles that attach to the spine, to help take the load off of the spine itself. When the muscles that support the spine are weak, or not balanced, this can lead to extra pressure on the spine itself.
Weak muscles can lead to a lot of wear and tear on the components that make up the spine, the disc spaces, vertebrae, etc. These components can become worn or weak as a result of weak muscles and cause pain.
So the muscles that support the spine do precisely that, they take the load of everyday life off of the spine. By getting the muscles that support the spine right, we are a lot more durable.
Laying around in bed when you have a sore or injured back is not always the best thing to do, as this can lead to even weaker muscles. So if you can get up and move your body that is a good idea.
A little bit about me
I have been dealing with back problems for about 20 years. For some people reading this, that seems like a very long time, other people I am sure have dealt with back pain longer than that. But I think I am a pretty good example.
I would never have imagined that I would have back surgery at 27 years old. I had been dealing with a herniated disc for many months and tried all sorts of different treatments. So, without boring you the details, I will cut to the chase.
Since my back surgery in 1999, I have had more problems, notably in 2011 and 2015.
In 2011 I hobbled around for 16 months with shooting pain down my right leg. Again, tried a lot of treatment options, but I didn’t want to have another surgery.
2015 changed everything for me. Through a series of lousy workout decisions, I ended up with spinal stenosis, and it took months working with a chiropractor to get back upright again.
After months of treatment, I was finally able to start exercising again and promote the healing of my back.
The low impact exercises I have listed are a great way to get some good exercise in to help deter back pain.
Walking is excellent on so many levels, don’t knock it. First, it’s low impact which is great for your joints. Walking is something that you can do pretty much wherever you are. If you are vacationing in a tropical paradise, you can go for a walk on the beach. If it’s crappy weather, you can walk inside on a treadmill, so there are a lot of options when it comes to walking.
I go for a lot of little walks throughout the day, especially when I am at work. Not only does this help to get the blood flowing from a mundane workday, but it also helps to strengthen core muscles that are critical to protecting the spine. Walking can help to loosen up tight muscles from sitting, which we tend to do all too much of these days.
If you are able to vary the terrain, you walk on, uphill, downhill, etc. that is great also and can help to engage more muscles. You can also speed up or slow down your pace. These are all good things about walking that can help with back pain.
A treadmill gives you some excellent options for walking indoors. If it’s too hot or too cold to walk outside, hit the treadmill! You can use the incline to adjust the uphill terrain, and you can change speeds to walk faster or slower.
Anyway, just some ideas for getting a great walk in no matter where you are.
When I was dealing with spinal stenosis, walking long distances was not an option for me. Which leads me to the next exercise option.
When I was dealing with spinal stenosis, I was bent over at about a 30-degree angle at my waist. I spent several months in this position. Bike riding was one of the few exercises I could do since my bent over orientation was just right for riding a bike.
My wife and I would go for bike rides frequently around the neighborhood, just to get me out of the house. I would stand up on the pedals and hold the handlebars, I didn’t really want to sit down all that much as that put added stress on my spine.
Anyway, once again, riding a bike is a great low impact exercise that can help to loosen up tight muscles and strengthen core areas.
Riding outside or at the gym is up to you, both have pluses and minuses. Outdoors gives you fresh air, but you are subjected to the elements. Riding a bike at the gym offers a climate-controlled space, but a lack of scenery. The gym also provides different kinds of bikes, upright, recumbent, etc., so the choice is yours.
Now we get to my absolute favorite machine, the elliptical trainer. I love ellipticals for a number of reasons which I will get into now.
Ellipticals offer a great way to work key core muscle areas including your low back and butt. Depending on how you use the elliptical, you can target different areas.
Using the handgrips allow you to engage your upper body in addition to your legs. There are also stationary handgrips that you can use to hold onto as you sit back into more of a squat position. Leaning back and squatting down really hammers your butt and I love that since that is key for my core.
One thing I think is a great tip, try using the elliptical without bouncing up and down. You will notice right away that you are using your legs a lot more than when you bounce. So my favorite way to use an elliptical trainer is to go hands-free, so no hands on the stationary or moving handgrips, lean back into my butt and NOT bounce. Try it if you can, it’s a great workout.
Swimming is a fantastic option if you are looking for ways to exercise with back pain. There are a couple of reasons why swimming is excellent:
- Swimming doesn’t put undue stress on the joints in your spine. When you are in the water buoyancy helps to counteract gravity so that will keep your joints Swimming is a lot easier on your body, specifically your joints than many other forms of exercise, like running for example.
- It works a lot of different muscle groups. There are a lot of different strokes when you are swimming, and depending on how you are swimming, you can work different muscle groups. I am not much of a swimmer, but I have tried swimming when my back was in bad shape. I can tell you that swimming is no joke, it’s really hard
Water gives you other options besides just swimming; you can walk, or take an aerobics class. Check out my post, water exercises for back pain.
So there you have it, some great ways to exercise with low back pain. I know how tough it can be to actually get out there and exercise when you are in pain. I have been there and done that (and also not done that). Sometimes the last thing you want to do is exercise when you are in pain.
Exercise can be such a great way to help alleviate the back pain and work the muscles that support your spine, in the process.
There have been times in my life when I was not able to exercise due to severe circumstances with my back, and it was really tough for me. If you have a severe injury, check with your doctor before you start to exercise.
I wish you the best with your back pain journey, and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. You can leave questions or comments below, and I will get back to you as soon as I can.