Note: This article was originally published in the July 2012 issue of The Wellness Beacon newsletter.
If you regularly experience pain in your lower back, you are certainly not alone. A large percentage of people experience low back pain and its onset has a tendency to greatly increase with age. There are two types of low back pain: acute and chronic. Acute low back pain is often associated with strenuous exercise or physical activity, overexertion, incorrect body stance or faulty posture. This type of low back pain comes on quickly and is profound but usually presents for a short period of time. Chronic low back pain, on the other hand, continues in a repetitive manner. Any sort of motion can activate the pain and it stays relentlessly.
Understanding Low Back Pain
The lower back is the most mobile region of the spine allowing movements such as turning, twisting, or bending. It also plays a critical role during standing, walking, jumping, and lifting. The lower back is a complex structure of bones, ligaments, and muscles with major nerves and joints. It connects the upper body (chest and arms) to the lower body (pelvis and legs) and is primarily comprised of vertebrae (bones of the spine) and intervertebral discs (cushions that sit between vertebrae) that bear much of the body’s weight. As such, the soundness of these structures and proper functioning of the lower back is necessary for almost all activities of daily living.
Unfortunately, many will experience some sort of low back pain in their lifetime because if the lower back is misused in any way, it can fail. Disks can be ruptured, ligaments can sprain, and muscles can be strained. Oftentimes such injuries are caused by accidents or sports related incidents, however, at times, routine and simple movements can result in low back pain. Some of the major causes of chronic low back pain include: excess body fat, spinal fracture (broken back), rupturing or bulging discs along the spine, degenerative arthritis, hip problems, kidney disease, inflamed muscles or joints, tumors, or aneurysms (click here to learn more about the major conditions associated with low back pain).
Exercise as a Treatment for Chronic Low Back Pain
If you have low back pain it is especially important to treat it. Low back pain can restrict activity and reduce work capacity and quality of enjoyment of everyday living. Common treatments for low back pain include hydrotherapy (the use of ice and heat) and medications (which may include a combination of prescription drugs and over-the-counter remedies), however, exercise is one of the most widely used treatments for low back pain. It is indeed one of the cheapest and most effective ways to prevent and speed recovery from low back pain. In cases of severe low back pain, physical therapy may be necessary. However, with mild to moderate low back pain, it is possible to reduce symptoms by performing the following exercises targeted at maintaining and building joint flexibility, muscular strength and endurance.
Exercises for Joint Flexibility
To decrease the intensity of low back pain, you can perform the following stretching exercises at home on a daily basis:
Single knee to chest stretch for your lower back muscles
Piriformis stretch for your lower back and hip muscles
Hamstring stretch for the muscles in the back of your legs
Exercises for Muscular Strength and Endurance
To build muscular strength and endurance, you can perform the following exercises at home on three non-consecutive days per week:
Wall slide to strengthen your back, hip, and leg muscles
Leg raise to strengthen your back and hip muscles
Leg raise to strengthen your abdominal and hip muscles
Partial sit-up to strengthen your abdominal muscles
Back leg swing to strengthen your hip and back muscles
Lower back exercise to reduce strain
Low-Impact Cardiovascular Exercise for Muscular Endurance
When coupled with the previously described exercises for developing muscular strength and endurance, low-impact cardiovascular (cardio) exercise has been proven beneficial for minimizing the symptoms associated with low back pain. Continuous cardio exercise that increases your heart rate over an extended period of time enhances the efficiency and functional capacity of your heart, lungs, and blood vessels in order to ensure that your body is able to deliver the necessary oxygen and nutrients to your lower back. Such effects can lead to reductions in lower back stiffness and promote healing. You can begin by performing 20 to 30 minutes of cardio exercise (in a gym or at home), at least 3 days per week with a goal of progressing to 40 to 60 minutes of cardio exercise on most days of the week. Start with the following low-impact cardio exercises, which are gentle on the low back:
-Water activity (i.e. swimming, water walking, aqua aerobics)
In summary, exercise plays an essential role in the treatment of low back pain. With exercise the goal is to minimize discomfort and restore your ability to perform normal movements and everyday activities efficiently and effectively. Remember, if you are experiencing mild to moderate low back pain, you may be able to perform exercises for joint flexibility, muscular strength and endurance on a regular basis in order to reduce symptoms. However, if your low back pain is more severe, contact your healthcare provider for additional treatment options.
Learn More About Low Back Pain
At some point in time, almost everyone will experience low back pain as its prevalence greatly increases with age. To learn more about preventing and/or treating low back pain, visit The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a physician for advice.
Before starting an exercise training program you should first make sure that exercise is safe for you. If you are under the age of 55 years and generally in good health, it is probably safe for you to exercise. However, if you are over 55 years of age and/or have any health problems, be sure to consult with your physician before starting an exercise training program.
Written by Nina Cherie Franklin