Back pain can hit anybody, but it becomes more likely as we age, and when we’re consistently sedentary. A British study involving over 30,000 back pain sufferers revealed that when people understand their risk factors and combine that knowledge with exercise, their need for other interventions decreases significantly.
So what’s the best exercise for alleviating or avoiding back pain? And what about the converse question – what’s the worst thing you can for your back when it comes to athletics?
One of the best forms of exercise for people who suffer from back pain is also the one that comes to us earliest in life and which is most natural to us: it’s walking. Not only is walking easy on your joints, but every time you do it you also help to maintain your bone density, fending off conditions like osteoporosis and improving your cardiovascular health.
Other forms of exercise can also be beneficial if done correctly, but there’s a fine line between helpful and hurtful. Here are some tips for avoiding injury and doing what’s best for your back:
• Stretching and loosening your hamstrings is helpful, but only if it’s done right. Many people make the mistake of bending over to touch their toes, and make things even worse by bouncing once in that position. Instead, put your heel up on a chair, tilt your pelvis forward, and bend over towards your foot slowly and gently. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs.
• Want to stretch your quads? Don’t do it while sitting upright. Instead, lay on your side, resting your head on your downside arm and your legs stacked, then bend your top leg backwards, keeping your knees together and grabbing your top foot towards your hip.
• Want to work your abs and core? Lots of people do leg raises in which they lay on their back and raise and lower their legs. Though this engages the muscles of the belly, it also puts tremendous stress on the spine. Instead, start on your back with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle so they are over your hips. From that position, contract your abdominal muscles, then raise your knees up towards your chest. Another good alternative to the abdominal exercise known as crunches is the plank, which strengthens core muscles and tones your belly and your arms without working the spine.
• Want to get your heart pumping? Rather than attempting a high-impact aerobic class or going for a run, get yourself to a pool and go for a swim. Swimming is a low-impact activity that stretches and strengthens your core muscles and provides cardiovascular benefits without stressing your joints or vertebrae. If you’re currently experiencing pain, swimming may actually make you feel better, though backstroke and breaststroke may be your best options because they involve less twisting.
• Lots of people opt for yoga when they’re trying to stretch out their backs. If you’re an enthusiast, we highly recommend hot yoga, which provides all of the benefits along with the added perk of a heated room. The warmth loosens tight muscles and can help you get a deeper, more comfortable stretch. Just make sure you stay hydrated.