Exercise can be a great tool for pain management and injury recovery, but it’s important to know when to stop and what types of exercises to avoid if you’re experiencing back pain.
Exercising Safely With Back Pain
Research has shown that exercise can help promote spine health and reduce the intensity and recurrence of back pain episodes. Exercise can increase spinal stability, encourage blood flow circulation to the spine’s soft tissues and improve overall posture and spinal flexibility.
But when a person is experiencing a back pain episode, it can be difficult to know when to power through some pain and when to hold back so that further spinal damage or pain doesn’t ensue.
If you’re currently battling back pain, it’s crucial to speak with your doctor about what you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to your specific symptoms and fitness level.
In general, when experiencing a back pain episode, some movement is better than none, but some specific exercises might cause worsened pain, and keeping these do’s and don’ts in mind can help you know when to stop.
Exercises to Avoid With Back Pain
Some exercises may exacerbate your back pain or cause injury:
- Anything causing moderate or severe back pain. Don’t exercise through moderate or severe back pain. If the pain feels like more than mild muscle strain and lasts for longer than a few minutes during any exercise, stop the exercise.
- Double-leg lifts. Often used to strengthen the abdominal muscles, leg lifts can place pressure on the hips and spine, especially in people with a weak core. When you’re experiencing back pain, or haven’t done much abdominal work, aim for leg lifts that single out only one leg at a time.
- Full sit-ups. Full crunches or sit-up exercises can put strain on the spinal discs and ligaments, primarily when they aren’t appropriately performed. Avoid this exercise type during back pain flair-ups and instead try gentler ab exercises like a modified crunch.
- Running. No matter what surface you choose to run on (paved road, natural terrain or treadmill), running is a high-impact activity that places tremendous stress and force on every joint in the body, including the spine. It’s best to avoid running during a back pain episode.
- Toe touches from a standing position. Toe touch exercises while standing place more significant pressure on the spinal discs, ligaments and muscles surrounding the spine.
READ: Exercises for Lower Back Pain. ]
Exercises to Try With Back Pain
Other exercises may ease your pain or speed up recovery:
- Back press extensions. Lying on your stomach, place your hands at your shoulders and gently press up so that your shoulders come off the floor. When you are comfortable, place elbows on the floor and hold the position for 10 seconds. These gentle exercises are great for spinal stretching without torque or unnecessary strain.
- Modified crunches. Performing a partial crunch while engaging the abdominal muscles and just lifting shoulders off the ground is good for your core and won’t risk aggravating the spine, especially during a back pain episode. Hold the crunch for a second or two, then gently lower your shoulders to the ground. Your feet, tail bone and lower back should always remain against the floor or mat during this exercise.
- Hamstring stretches. Lying down on the floor or a mat, loop a towel behind the middle of your foot, straighten the leg and gently pull the towel back towards your head. Keep the other leg on the floor, with the knee bent. Hold the position for up to 30 seconds. When done correctly, these stretches can help elongate the muscles in the lower body that may become neglected when back pain strikes.
- Walking. Walking is a great total-body cardiovascular exercise that can be especially helpful for people experiencing back pain episodes. Be sure not to go too far or walk for too long if you’re in moderate to severe pain, and make sure that the walking surface is even, without too much uphill or downhill variation to start.
- Wall sits. Stand about a foot away from the wall and lean back until your back is flat against the wall. Slowly slide down the wall, keeping your back pressed against it until the knees are bent. Hold the position for about 10 seconds, then slowly slide back up the wall. Wall sits are great for working thigh and glute muscles without added strain on the spine because of support and protection from the wall.
READ: Ways to Improve Spine Health ]
It’s a common misconception that you should lie still or not move too much when experiencing back pain. Many spine health experts actually recommend the opposite to their patients. Especially once you’ve received a green light from your doctor, beginning to exercise when your back hurts can make you feel better much sooner than you might realize.