Should You Exercise When You Have Lower Back Pain?

Workout Tips to Ease the Pain

After describing your aching lower back pain to your doctor, the last thing you want to hear is: “You should exercise.” How can you be expected to work out when even bending over causes you pain?

Group of people doing stretching exercisesExercise can help you improve your range of motion and strengthen your back muscles, which can prevent future pain.Why Exercise?

  • Many physicians recommend exercise and stretching to help eliminate low back pain because it is an effective, affordable, and non-invasive treatment option.
  • Regular exercise can help you lose weight, which can help relieve pressure on your lower back (since it has less weight to support).
  • Exercise can help you improve your range of motion and strengthen your back muscles, which can prevent future pain.

Make Safety a Priority
To ensure that your workout helps your lower back pain, rather than makes it worse, it is important to make exercise safety a priority. Before you begin a new exercise regimen, consult your doctor to be sure that it is well-suited for your body and your symptoms. Do not exercise if your physician recommends a period of rest following an injury.

  • It is not uncommon to experience mild discomfort near the beginning of your workout regimen; however, if it does not go away after 15 minutes1, or if you begin to experience more severe pain, stop exercising and call your doctor.

Make Exercise Easier and Effective While Dealing with Low Back Pain

  • Go for a swim. Exercising in water is a great way to strengthen and stretch your muscles while protecting them from further injury. Water helps to support your body and joints while you exercise, but it also provides a safe, comfortable level of resistance so that your muscles have to work even to make small movements. Try walking a few laps across the shallow end, or look for a water exercise class in your area.
  • Don’t automatically ditch the sports. If your low back pain allows it (and you have consulted your doctor), keep up with your favorite low-impact sports, like bicycling or golf. You may be more likely to stick to your workout if it is something you actually enjoy. Still, it is important to remember that proper form is critical when engaging in sports to help you prevent further low back injuries. When playing golf, for example, make sure you stretch and warm up beforehand, and be careful when bending down to pick up a ball or lift your golf bag.
  • Wear the right shoes. Shoes should be the appropriate size, and they should be comfortable, so that they help support your weight and take pressure off your back and hips.
  • Don’t copy others. When that experienced runner races by you on the track, it is tempting to want to increase your speed to keep up. However, fight the urge and stick to your workout regimen. Pushing yourself further (and faster) than your injury allows can make your lower back pain worse.
  • Take it slow.  In general, it is best to lower the intensity of your workout (for example, by running at a slower pace or swapping heavy weights for lighter weights) until your doctor says it is safe to ramp things up.

For examples of stretches that can strengthen your back, check out our Exercises to Keep a Healthy Back video series. You could work these stretches into your daily routine (doing them first thing in the morning, for example) to help take care of your back and prevent your lower back pain from becoming worse.

Updated on: 03/27/18
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