One of the most common questions that people ask when they hurt their backs is "should I rest with low back pain?". The next question that often comes up is "should I exercise with lower back pain?".
Resting For Low Back Pain
When your back is in pain it can be hard to know which way to go and how to make it better. Just a few years ago, doctors would commonly prescribe bed rest for low back pain.
In a recent publication, Harvard Medical School stated that “we now know that an extended period of bed rest isn’t helpful for moderate back strain at any stage of therapy”.
Bed rest may have benefits in small doses, but too much time in bed can actually do more harm than good. So, if resting isn’t what’s recommended any more, should you exercise with lower back pain? Would that help, or would it just do more damage?
Will My Back Heal Itself?
Over time, most low back pain cases will resolve by themselves. In fact, only around 1% of cases are tied to something more serious that requires medical intervention (see our blog on When To Worry About Lower Back Pain).
Furthermore, exercise and physical activity are unanimously recommended by professional guidelines and associations around the globe. This is good news for those who are looking to resume their normal activities, but you should always check with your healthcare professional before doing any exercise for low back pain.
Why Should You Exercise With Lower Back Pain?
Research has shown that exercise can increase blood flow to the lower back area and this can reduce stiffness and speed up the healing process. Strength training can help to build up back muscles and can help prevent future back pain.
Strengthening your core muscles will improve stability, increase flexibility, and prevent injury. In one study it was shown that exercise could reduce low back pain by more than 50%, and disability was reduced by 27.5%.
How To Approach Exercising with Low Back Pain
1. Find out which moves make your low back pain worse.
2. Exercise at a comfortable intensity.
This is key to reduce fear of further injury. Fear avoidance is real and can be a big problem for those wanting to exercise but who are also scared of hurting themselves even more.
3. Don’t work through the pain.
Know the difference between pain and soreness from a workout. Soreness is a dull, achy feeling that should go away within 24–72 hours, and generally comes from working out. Pain is more severe and is your body’s way of telling you that it doesn’t like something you did to it. You should always listen to your body.
4. Watch your posture.
Slumping or slouching can exacerbate low back pain.
5. Don’t skip your warm up
Many back pain issues occur when we don’t warm up the muscles properly. Stretching before and/or after a workout can help with this.
6. Avoid high-impact exercises
Px90 and Crossfit may be popular workouts right now, but those programs are probably not going to be beneficial for those with low back pain. Low impact activities such as yoga, walking, or water aerobics, are all great ways or exercising with little to no impact on your low back.
7. Don’t lift weights above your head
Lifting weights above your head or your shoulders can stress the spine and these movements should be avoided.
8. Stretching exercises
Stretching should be an essential part of your low back pain workout. Stretching glutes, hamstrings and quads can have great benefits for reducing tightness and improving flexibility and range of motion.
9. Get your cardio on
High impact cardio that puts stress on your joints should be avoided but low impact exercises like walking, step machines, ellipticals, or even stationary bikes can help you get your calorie burn on without sacrificing your spine.
10. Skip the toe touch
Toe touches from a standing position can aggravate sciatica by over stressing spinal discs and ligaments. They can also aggravate your hamstrings — so stick with a gentle stretch instead.
Hopefully after reading this article you will feel more comfortable about how to approach working out with low back pain and know that, even if you feel like resting, ultimately getting going is great for your back.
Daily exercise is key for maintaining overall health and the benefits for your heart, your mind and your soul are clear, but it doesn’t have to come at the expense of your spine.