Exercise is a vital part of improving and maintaining normal, comfortable back function. It is important to exercise regularly so you can maintain your fitness level. Regular exercise is important to prevent back pain and injury. A program of strengthening, stretching and aerobic exercises will improve your overall fitness level. Research has shown that people who are physically fit are more resistant to back injuries and pain, and recover quicker when they do have injuries, than those who are less physically fit. In addition, consider maintaining an average weight for your height.
The following exercises are recommended for people who currently are not experiencing back pain. Modifications to this exercise regimen are necessary if you have back pain. Do not continue to perform an exercise that produces pain. Seek the advice of a doctor or physical therapist.
What exercises help maintain a healthy back?
Exercises for a healthy back can be divided into three basic groups:
- Strengthening: repeated muscle contractions until the muscle becomes tired.
- Stretching or Flexibility: slow, sustained lengthening of the muscle.
- Aerobic: steady exercise using large muscle groups.
All of these exercises should be performed slowly and comfortably to avoid injury. When performing strengthening and flexibility exercises, remember to breathe naturally and without holding your breath; exhale during exertion and inhale during relaxation.
Strengthening exercises help increase muscle tone and improve the quality of muscles. Muscle strength and endurance provide energy and a feeling of wellness to help you perform daily, routine activities. Adequate strength of abdominal and back muscles helps stabilize the spine, allows proper spinal movement and makes it easier to maintain correct posture. Strong hip and leg muscles are important to perform proper lifting techniques and body mechanics.
Abdominal exercise #1
Lie on your back on a firm surface with your knees bent. Raise your head and shoulders so your shoulder blades lift off the floor. Reach both hands toward your knees. Try to keep your head in a neutral position. Hold. Bring your head and shoulders back down.
Abdominal exercise #2
Lie on your back on a firm surface with your knees bent. Raise your head and shoulders so your shoulder blades lift off the floor. Reach both hands toward your left knee. Try to keep your head in a neutral position. Hold. Bring your head and shoulders back down. Relax. Repeat, reaching both hands toward your right knee.
Abdominal exercise #3
Lie on your back on a firm surface with your knees bent and feet flat on the surface. Flatten the small of your back against the surface and concentrate on tightening your abdominal muscles. Relax and repeat.
Abdominal exercise #4
Lie on your back on a firm surface with your right knee bent and your left knee straight. Hold your abdominal muscles tight and slowly lower and raise your left leg while keeping it straight. Relax and repeat. Now, change legs—bend your left knee and straighten your right knee. Repeat the exercise.
Back exercise #1
Lie facedown. Position a large pillow under your belly button to keep your spine in a neutral position. Place your hands behind your hips. Pulling your shoulder blades together, raise your head and chest. Keep your neck relaxed. Return to the starting position and repeat.
Back exercise #2
Sit upright in a straight back chair. Put your hands on your hips or behind your back, whichever feels more comfortable. Pull your shoulder blades together. Relax and repeat.
Leg exercise #1
Set up two chairs, one in front of the other. Hold on to the back of the chair in front of you and begin to sit in the chair behind you. Partway down, stop and hold your position. Relax and repeat. As you become stronger, try to hold a lower position that is almost, but not quite seated.
Leg exercise #2
Sit on the edge of a chair. Weave a belt around your legs just above the knees so it forms a figure eight. Pulling your legs in opposite directions, lift one leg off the floor. Relax. Repeat with other leg.
Leg exercise #3
Sit on the edge of a chair or table. Weave a belt around your ankles so it forms a figure eight. Try to straighten one leg while pulling the other foot backward, applying equal force with both legs. Relax. Repeat with other leg.
Chest and arm exercise #1
Sit in a sturdy chair that has arms (no wheels), with your feet firmly on the floor. Place your hands on the arms. Push your body up off the seat of the chair using your arms only, not your feet. Relax and repeat.
Chest and arm exercise #2
Stand facing a wall, far enough away that you can place your palms on the wall with your elbows slightly bent. Slowly bend your elbows and lean toward the wall. Straighten your arms and return to a standing position. Repeat. As you build strength, try standing further from the wall.
STRETCHING AND FLEXIBILITY EXERCISES
Include some or all of these exercises in your activity program. Remember to move slowly and easily.
1. Bring your chin forward toward your chest then, stretch it up toward the ceiling.
2. Tilt your left ear to your left shoulder. Avoid raising your shoulder toward your head.
3. Tilt your right ear to your right shoulder. Avoid raising your shoulder toward your head.
4. Turn your face to the left, then to the right. Keep your neck, shoulders, and trunk straight.
With your arms at your side:
1. Roll your shoulders forward in a circular motion. Reverse.
2. Bring your arms forward and over your head. Keep your trunk straight.
3. Raise your arms to your sides and over your head. Keep your trunk straight.
4. Bring your elbows to shoulder height. Pull your elbows backward and feel the stretch in your chest muscles.
1. Bend and straighten your elbows.
2. Keep your arms next to your body, bend your elbows to make a right angle and turn your palms up and down.
1. Move your hands from side to side as far as possible, bending at the wrists.
2. Move your hands up and down as far as possible, bending at the wrists.
1. Bend your fingers to make a fist, and then fully straighten them.
2. Bend your fingers at the knuckles, forming a claw, and then straighten them.
3. Bend your thumbs across your palms and pull toward your little fingers.
4. Touch the tips of your thumbs to the tips of your little fingers. Open your hands wide.
5. Touch the tips of your thumbs to each finger.
1. March in place, bringing your knees up high.
2. Raise your right leg out to the side, and then lower your leg.
3. Lift your right leg straight back, and then lower your leg. Do not arch your back.
4. Kick your right foot up behind you (“butt” kick), and then lower your foot.
5. Raise your left leg out to the side, and then lower your leg.
6. Lift your left leg straight back, and then lower your leg. Do not arch your back.
7. Kick your left foot up behind you (“butt” kick), and then lower your leg.
Standing with your hands on your hips:
1. Bend your upper body way to the left, and then to the right.
2. Twist your upper body to the right, and then to the left. Do not turn your pelvis.
Standing with your feet about 12 inches apart:
1. Rise on the toes of both your feet. Return feet to floor.
2. Rise on the toes of your right foot. Return foot to floor.
3. Rise on the toes of both your feet. Return feet to floor.
4. Rise on the toes of your left foot. Return foot to floor.
5. Walk on your heels.
6. Walk on your toes.
7. Walk heel-to-toe, as though you were on a tightrope.
Aerobic exercise provides cardiovascular conditioning; it strengthens the heart and lungs and improves the body’s ability to use oxygen. Some other benefits of aerobic exercise include increased energy levels, improved mood, better sleep habits and decreased blood pressure. Aerobic exercise also burns calories and improves your metabolism, helping with weight loss. Some examples of aerobic exercise include:
HOW SHOULD YOU DO AEROBIC EXERCISES?
In general, to achieve maximum benefits, you should gradually work up to an aerobic session lasting 20 to 60 minutes, 3 or 4 times a week. Please check with your doctor or physical therapist before starting any aerobic program. Your exercise routine should consist of a 5-minute warm-up (including stretching exercises) before the aerobic activity and 5 to 10 minutes of a cool down (stretching and slower activity) after the activity.
Aim for 20 to 40 minutes of moderately intense aerobic activity most days of the week. For the activity to be beneficial, try to exert a moderate amount of effort. If you have been inactive, start out slowly at an easy pace and gradually increase your time and level of exertion.
Here are some precautions with aerobic exercise:
- Jumping rope puts too much pressure on the discs and should be avoided.
- Running can be done as long as it doesn’t increase lower back pain.
- When walking or running, wear supportive, well-cushioned shoes and walk or run on a level surface.