Physical Therapy

Most people know regular exercise will improve their appearance and general health, but few realize the positive effects that good physical conditioning can have on their low back pain. Many studies show dramatic improvements of low back pain in individuals who are physically fit. In addition, the person in good physical shape is much less likely than the average person to injure their back during work or daily activities.

The benefit of exercise for your low back depends on three key principles. First, you must attain satisfactory aerobic fitness. Second, you should focus part of your work-out on the muscle groups that support your back. Third, you must avoid exercises that place excessive stresses on your back.

The ideal aerobic exercise involves the large muscle groups of your body (arms and legs) in a smooth, cyclical fashion. Recommended exercises include swimming, fast walking, cycling, and using a ski machine or elliptical exerciser. You should achieve the appropriate heart rate for 30 minutes at least three times per week. Of course, you should consult your family physician and review your aerobic program before getting started. He/she can give you the appropriate target for your heart rate during aerobic exercise. It is always optimal to approach your aerobic goals slowly, especially if you have not recently worked-out. Part of your work-out should stretch and strengthen the muscles of your low back, abdomen, pelvis, and thighs. Flexibility in these areas will greatly decrease the chance of further injury to the back. By strengthening these muscle groups, the body's weight distribution and posture are improved, resulting in less stress on the low back. It is best to perform these exercises after a good "warm-up", such as your aerobic routine. Ask your health club staff or physical therapist for instructions on specific stretching and strengthening exercises for these areas.

While the merits of good conditioning cannot be overstated, the wrong type of exercise may actually worsen your low-back problem. Activities that impart excessive stress on the back such, as lifting heavy weights, squatting, and climbing are not advised. In addition, high impact exercises such as running, jumping, and step aerobics can aggravate a low back condition. When walking, wear well-cushioned shoes with good arch supports and use a treadmill or a track made for athletics. Cycling on a recumbent stationary bike can relieve stress on the back.

With the help of your physician, physical therapist, and health club staff, you can achieve proper physical fitness. Your low back pain may be decreased and your lifespan increased.

Exercises For A Healthy Back

Use these simple exercises to keep your back in good shape.

Regular aerobic and weight-bearing exercise (3-5 times per week) will improve your overall fitness and decrease the likelihood of back injury.

If any of these exercises increases your back pain after five repetitions, or causes acute pain, you should stop doing it.

Follow these simple rules:

  • Do each exercise slowly.
  • Do each exercise twice a day.
  • Start with five repetitions of each exercise, and work up to ten repetitions.
  • Always remember to begin and end your exercise session with stretching!
  • Consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Modified Sit-up - Strong abdominal muscles protect your back! Slowly raise your shoulders off the ground while keeping your chin tucked. Touch your fingertips to your knees and hold for the count of five. Do not arch your back.

Straight Leg Raise- This strengthens your legs and abdominal muscles. Lie on your back with one knee bent so the foot is flat on the floor; keep the other leg straight and slowly raise it 8" off the floor. Hold for five seconds, lower and relax; repeat five times then change legs.

Leg Lifts - Lie on your right side (on the floor) with your right leg bent slightly. Stretch your right arm flat in front of you and use it for balance. Align your shoulder and hips. Slowly lift your left leg 8-10 inches then lower slowly. Repeat five times. Turn over and repeat on your left side, raising your right leg.

Neck Press - This is an isometric exercise to strengthen your neck. Press your palm against your forehead, then use your neck muscles to push against your palm. Hold for ten seconds and repeat six times. Then press your palm against your temple and use your neck muscles to push against your palm, holding for ten seconds and repeating six times on each side. Then cup both hands behind your head and use your neck muscles to press back into your hands. Hold for ten seconds, and repeat six times.

Isometric Abs - This easy way to strengthen your stomach muscles can be done standing or sitting. Exhale and pull your abdominal muscles in as tightly as possible. Hold for five seconds then release; repeat ten times.

Aerobic Exercise - Aerobic exercise raises your heart rate with continuous, rhythmic movement and, done regularly, will increase your stamina and strengthen your heart and lungs. It should be done 3-5 times per week for at least 20 minutes. Walking is the best place to start, but bicycling, jogging and swimming are good options, too.

Stretching - Stretch throughout the day to keep your muscles flexible and avoid injury.

Low Back Stretch: Standing or lying flat on your back, slowly bring one knee toward your chest and grasp it with your hands. Hold for a count of three, then relax and repeat with the other leg.

Extension Stretch: If you have been sitting or bent over for a while, simply stand, bend your knees slightly, place your hands on the back of your waist and stretch backward while looking at the ceiling. Hold for a count of five then slowly stand up.

Neck Stretches: Nod your head slowly forward, bringing your chin toward your chest. Repeat five times. Turn your head from side to side very slowly until you can align your chin with your shoulder. Repeat five times. Tilt your head slowly from side to side, bringing your ear over your shoulder. This is good if you spend a lot of time at a computer.

Shoulder Rolls: Roll your shoulders forward, then backward in a circle. Do this for 10-15 seconds to start. Begin with little circles and progress to large circles. Do this several times during the day to relieve tension. This is also good if you spend a lot of time at a computer.

Hamstring Stretch: Stretching your hamstring muscle (which runs from the hip down the back of the thigh to the knee) gives your back and hip flexibility. It can be done standing, sitting or lying down. Standing - Stand with one leg straight out in front of you, your foot resting on a table or chair. Bend the leg you are standing on until you feel a mild stretch under the thigh of the raised leg. Hold for a count of three. Sitting - Sit on the floor with one leg straight in front of you, and the other bent with your foot flat on the floor. Lean forward slowly over the bent leg until you feel a mild stretch under the other thigh. Lying down - Lie on your back with your knees bent so your feet are flat on the floor. Raise one leg slowly, clasping your hands behind your knee to support it. Slowly straighten your leg and feel the stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold for a count of three then relax.

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Last modified: 07/27/08