Exercise for back pain
Healing through back pain exercise
Active forms of back pain exercise (physical therapy) are typically necessary to rehabilitate the spine and help alleviate back pain. Importantly, a regular back pain exercise routine provides patients with the means to help avoid recurrences of low back pain, and helps reduce severity and duration of potential future episodes of low back pain.
The natural stimulus for the back to heal is active back pain exercises, done in a controlled, gradual, and progressive manner. Movement distributes nutrients into the disc space and soft tissues in the spine to keep the discs, muscles, ligaments and joints healthy. And the converse is true too—lack of exercise can worsen back pain by leading to stiffness, weakness, and de-conditioning.
Generally, a patient’s back pain exercise program should encompass a combination of stretching exercises (such as hamstring stretching), strengthening exercises (such as dynamic lumbar stabilization exercise, Mckenzie exercise, or other back exercise programs) and low impact aerobics (such as walking, bicycling, water therapy or swimming). Depending the patient’s specific diagnosis and level of pain, the back pain exercise and rehabilitation program will be very different, so it is important for patients to see a spine specialist who is trained to develop an individualized exercise program provide instruction on using the correct form and technique.
Stretching as part of a back pain exercise routine
Almost everyone can benefit from stretching the soft tissues—the muscles, ligaments and tendons—in the back and around the spine. The spinal column and its contiguous muscles, ligaments and tendons are all designed to move, and limitations in this motion can accentuate back pain. Patients with chronic back pain may find it takes weeks or months of stretching to mobilize the spine and soft tissues, but will find that meaningful and sustained relief of low back pain typically follows the increase in motion.
Hamstring stretching exercise
The hamstring muscles seem to play a key role in low back pain, as patients who have low back pain tend to have tight hamstrings, and patients with tight hamstrings tend to have low back pain. It is not known which comes first, but it is clear that hamstring tightness limits motion in the pelvis and can place it in a position that increases stress across the low back. Therefore, it follows that stretching the hamstring muscles typically helps decrease the intensity of a patient’s back pain and the frequency of recurrences.
A hamstring stretching exercise routine should include applying pressure to lengthen the hamstring muscle for 30-45 seconds at a time, one to two times each day. The pressure on the muscle should be applied evenly and bouncing should be avoided, since a bouncing motion will trigger a spasm response in the muscle being stretched. The hamstring muscle may be stretched in a number of different ways. Options for hamstring stretching exercises, listed from most difficult to least difficult, include:
*The most common technique is to simply bend forward at the waist, with legs relatively straight, and try to touch the toes and hold this position.
*If this approach is not well tolerated, less strain is applied to the back by sitting on a chair and placing the legs straight out in front on another chair, then reaching forward to try to touch the toes. One leg at a time may be stretched.
*One of the least stressful stretching techniques is to lie on the floor and pull the leg up and straighten by holding onto a towel that is wrapped behind the foot. One leg at a time may be stretched.
*Another less stressful option is to lie on the floor, with the buttocks against a wall, and place the foot up against the wall and then try to push the knee straight. One leg at a time may be stretched.
With time the hamstring muscle will gradually lengthen, reducing stress to the low back. Stretching should not be linked to another back pain exercise routine, since those exercises may not be done on a daily basis. In order to make stretching exercise a part of one’s daily regimen, it is best to stretch every morning when getting up and before going to bed. Think of stretching exercises as good back hygiene.