You have likely had an episode of back pain at some point in your life. This is very common and usually the pain goes away and does not limit your activities but unfortunately back pain limits many people’s ability to do daily activities including exercise. If you are limited by back pain this information may help you start exercising to improve your overall health and decrease the amount of back pain you have.
- Severe pain and muscle spasm
- Numbness, tingling, unusual feelings in the legs and feet
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Weakness in the legs or feet
Seek medical attention if you have any of these symptoms or your back pain is not improving or is getting worse and you do not know the cause.
Exercising with Back pain
Start slowly and see how your back reacts to exercise. You may need to begin with just a few minutes of exercise each day.
Begin with exercise that you can do without causing more pain in your back. The type of exercise you can tolerate will depend on what type of problem is causing your back pain. You can try:
- Swimming / water aerobics
- Elliptical trainer
It is better to do too little than too much when you first start exercising.
You may want to start with cardio training first and find a routine you can do successfully before adding strength training. You also may want to add flexibility exercises to your routine before you start strength training.
Once you start strength training start slowly with just a few exercises, light weights, and a few repetitions until you find out how your body will react to strength training.
- Core exercises. (abdominal and back exercises)
- Resistance training for overall body strength and fitness.
Flexibility exercises can be very helpful for improving back pain and preventing future flare-ups. You may have a little more pain when you start exercising but it should not be severe and it should not last for more than a few days. Keep in mind the Red Flags listed above and seek medical attention if you develop these symptoms.
Improving the ability to control your balance and movements will decrease stress on your back. Start these exercises only if they cause little to no pain. If they are painful then wait until your strength and flexibility improves to begin these exercises.
- Single leg standing, eyes open, eyes closed
- Bosu, wobble board, pool noodle, foam cushion (link to photos and videos)
Common back problems
Sciatica is a problem that causes pain in the hip and leg. It can be caused by nerve irritation in the hip or spine. The irritation can come from a bulging disc, arthritis in the spine, or muscle tightness in the hip. Sciatica pain is often worse when sitting and better when standing or lying down.
See your doctor if you do not know why you are having any of the Red Flag symptoms. Start by trying to reduce or eliminate the leg pain.
Begin cardio training as soon as you can without making you symptoms worse. Cardio training can be very helpful in improving back pain. Find an exercise that does not make your leg pain worse. Typically exercises in an upright position such as walking will be more comfortable than seated exercises such as cycling.
In spinal stenosis, the space where the nerves come out of the spine are closed down usually because of arthritis. If you have spinal stenosis you are likely more comfortable sitting than standing. Flexing the spine forward as in sitting tends to open up the spaces in the spine around the nerves, relieving the pressure and the pain.
- Begin with back flexibility exercises, avoiding ones that make your leg symptoms worse.
Begin cardio training as soon as you can without making you symptoms worse. Cardio training can be very helpful in improving back pain as well as improving your overall health. Find an exercise that does not make your leg pain worse. Typically exercises in a flexed (seated) position such as cycling will be more comfortable than upright exercises such as walking.