The Lowdown on Low Back Pain
(and Other Aches)


Back to Fitness: Holiday Resolutions for Spine Health


With each holiday season, the average person gains five or ten pounds. The extra pounds add stress to the back and increase the risk of a disc injury. Our new year’s resolutions often include getting into better shape or losing a little weight.

Fitness actually has three components: cardiovascular fitness, flexibility/tone and strength. Cardiovascular fitness includes the “aerobic” exercises that strengthen the heart. Flexibility and toning involves stretching activities that keep the body supple. Strength is improved by lifting weights, doing sit-ups or doing other mat exercises. Flexibility and strength are both important to protect the back from injury.

Stretching improves flexibility and reduces the chance of back injury. A half dozen simple stretches should be done once or twice daily. Remember, don’t bounce, let gravity do the work, breathe with each stretch and then hold for 15 to 30 seconds.


(click to enlarge)


(click to enlarge)

The most important strengthening involves the muscles around the spine, the trunk, and the abdominals. If you plan to join a gym, consider one with a pool. Swimming and aquatherapy are excellent. McKenzie exercises, Pilates exercises and most physical therapy programs emphasize core strength (the trunk and abdominals). Don’t do straight leg sit-ups or toe touches, they strain the low back. Lift with the legs, not the back.



Not all exercise has to be boring, painful, or done at the gym. Walk to local stores instead of driving. Use the stairs instead of the elevator, when going up one floor or down two floors at work. Use some kind of exercise equipment when watching television. A stationary bike or a treadmill is good. An elliptical trainer is probably best.

Twenty minutes of exercise three times a week will improve your heart health and let you drop those extra pounds. Starting slowly (maybe just five or ten minutes), and stopping, if you have pain, makes sense.

If you already have back or leg pain, you will want to see your doctor or

chiropractor before starting any exercise program. You should exercise and there are simple ways to make it safer if you have a weak back.

If you have back and severe leg pain, epidural injections, nerve blocks, and other shots can sometimes relieve symptoms within hours. Most pain injections do not involve addictive or dangerous drugs. They are safe, fast, and nearly painless.

Disc surgery is recommended only when everything else fails. Discs can now be repaired using minimally-invasive or laser techniques. The operation is often a thirty-minute outpatient procedure and you may be off work just a few weeks. Disc replacement surgery, with bone or an artificial disc, is only for severe midline back pain from fractures, degenerative disease, or instability. Disc replacement is reserved for very severe injuries.

Neurosurgeons are doctors who specialize in the spine and brain. They have completed medical school, internship, six years of residency and often additional fellowship training. They care for most back problems.


There are also good sources for information on the internet. The National Library of Medicine site,, provides comprehensive information on almost every medical topic.



The information in this site briefly describes issues related to medical treatments, and has been licensed by from Northern California Neurosurgery Medical Group, Inc., who is solely responsible for said content.  This web site is not a substitute for good medical care or for a consultation with a spine specialist. It should not be used to plan your treatment. The well considered advice of a specialist who has personally examined you is always superior to even the best internet pages.

Copyright © 2007, Northern California Neurosurgery Medical Group. All rights are reserved.  No part of this web site may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored, electronically or on paper, without the written permission of the Northern California Neurosurgery Medical Group, Inc.
Last modified: 07/27/08