Exercise guidelines from health experts may help prevent back pain

Jul 12 2011
While many cases of low back pain have a genetic component or are age-related, there are steps that individuals can take to protect their vertebrae from degeneration and the complications that may result from the wear and tear of daily life.

Health experts have spoken loud and clear on this issue: people who lead active lives - meaning they get at least 20 minutes of moderate exercise daily or about 150 minutes per week - have a much lower risk of developing back pain. They also have the best chance of forestalling further complications if they have already experienced first back pain symptoms.

But which back stretches and exercises are the best to strengthen the core muscles so they can do their job of protecting and supporting the spine? Many people think that crunches are the way to go, but an article published in The New York Times suggests this may not be true for all people.

Based on recommendations published in the journal Osteoporosis International, the newspaper warns that stomach crunches and toe touches - and any type of stretch or exercise that involves twisting the spine and bending forward while keeping the legs straight - may do more harm than good for individuals who are already experiencing back pain. They are even more dangerous to those who are at risk of vertebral fractures, due to conditions such as osteoporosis.

Instead, the news source recommends lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat, and tightening your abdominal muscles by pushing your rib cage toward the floor and tilting the pelvis up. This position should be held for five seconds, and repeated five to 10 times.

The Times also suggests trying a Pilates exercise where you lie face down and raise your body into a bench-like posture, keeping your back flat. It's important to start by holding this position for as long as you can without strain, and building up to one minute over time.

It should be noted that these types of exercises are not only recommended as a preventive measure, but may also be of value to individuals who are recovering from an injury or spinal surgery. However, they should be undertaken under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

Experts say that avoiding physical activity during recovery may be as dangerous as overexertion. The reason for that is that inactivity can lead to muscle atrophy, causing the spine to lose its vital support system. This, in turn, can make back pain worse or lead to the development of a chronic pain condition.