The weather has finally warmed up and many people will be gearing up to jump back into their favorite outdoor activities like gardening, home improvement projects, traveling, hiking, running, golfing and other exciting adventures. Unfortunately, for some, this quick influx of activity can aggravate back pain and, in some cases, even make it worse.
Don’t let your back pain keep you indoors this summer. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best exercises that will get you outdoors and help lessen or improve the amount of back pain you experience on a daily basis.
The following activities are low-impact, aerobic exercises. Aerobic exercise, also commonly known as cardio, is designed to increase the heart and breathing rate to pump oxygenated blood to the muscles. Not only can aerobic exercise help maintain a healthy heart, but it also increases the amount of blood flow and nutrients to the muscles and joints that support the back. These nutrients can help reduce inflammation, promote healing, reduce muscle stiffness and strengthen the structures that provide support to the spine.
After Memorial Day, many outdoor pools open to the public and provide a great opportunity to get exercise and help lessen your daily back pain. One of the best benefits to swimming is that the buoyancy in the water helps support your back and takes stress off your joints, providing a non-weight bearing environment for you to exercise. Additionally, it strengthens your back and core muscles which helps fight inflammation and allows them to ward off pain.
It’s important to note that back pain can have a lot of different causes. While most have to do with muscle or joint inflammation and will dissipate with rest and time, there can occasionally be more serious factors at play that can be further aggravated by exercise. This being the case, it’s important that you get a thorough evaluation and diagnosis from a certified spine specialist before jumping in the pool.
Once you are cleared for activity, try spending some time in a pool at least once or twice a week. One study took 35 people who struggled with lower back pain and enrolled them in an aquatic exercise program. After six months, almost all the patients cited notable improvements in their pain. However, the researchers found that people who participated in swimming activity at least twice a week showed more significant improvement than those who only went once a week.
If you’re new to swimming, one of the most important things you can do is focus on your technique. Try starting with the breaststroke or the backstroke. Both of these strokes don’t involve much trunk rotation and are relatively easy to get the hang of.
(Tip: Many pools open to adults early in the morning, allowing them to exercise before being overrun by the general public. Call your local pool and see if this is something they offer.)
2. Bike Riding
Riding a bike is one of the most convenient ways to help alleviate back pain. One the key benefits of cycling is that it allows you exercise many of the muscles that support your back in a smooth and low-impact fashion. When you exercise muscles and joints that are inflamed and causing pain, you are allowing blood to flow through them which brings healing nutrients into the affected area, promoting strength and recovery.
If you are not an avid cyclist, it’s important that you start your exercise routine slowly and steadily. Bike riding can feel easier than running because it requires less impact and you are able to go further faster. This being the case, it’s easy to over-exert yourself early in the process which can set you up for injury or additional back pain. Instead, ride for 15-20 minutes several times a week and slowly add time/distance as your body grows more accustomed to the exercise.
It’s also important to note that you need practice common sense on your bike and wear the proper safety equipment. If you are a new cyclist, try to avoid riding for prolonged periods on active roads. Instead, stick to public paths and trails near your home that provide a smooth riding surface. Riding off-road is more technical and can have elements than jar your back or cause accidents. If you don’t know of any paths or trails near your home, you can easily find them using websites like TrailLink. You can also invest in a stationary bike or find one at your local gym which provides a very low-impact workout without the risk of a fall.
Getting on a daily walking routine may be one of the easiest ways to help you stay active while alleviating spine pain. Walking has been shown to help strengthen the muscles in the feet, legs, hips and torso which are all responsible for supporting the spine and keeping it in an upright position throughout the day. Additionally, walking helps nourish spinal structures by providing strong circulation into its soft tissues and helping drain toxins that can build up in joints and muscles throughout the day. Finally, regular walking helps strengthens bones, fights bone loss, helps with controlling weight and can improve spinal flexibility.
It’s important to note that while walking does have numerous health benefits, it is moderate impact and can produce pain if you’re suffering from a back injury. This being the case, you should check with your spine specialist before you get into an active walking routine, especially if you feel lingering pain in your spine. You should also invest in a set of shoes that is fitted to your specific profile and will help reduce the amount of stress you put on your body while walking.
Overall, for people with ongoing back pain, walking can help you maintain your active lifestyle while simultaneously the likelihood and/or severity of additional back pain episodes and pain.