There is nothing more important to the health of your back than exercise. Exercise strengthens and stretches back muscles, lubricates facet joints, and feeds the disks. The appropriate back exercise routine performed regularly and correctly is the best gift you can give your back. Here are some tips:
Start Regularly and Sensibly
Try to choose a variety of exercises that will condition different areas of your back and total body. If you have not exercised for a while, see your physician for a general checkup before starting your program. Also, if you are under the care of a physician or therapist for a concern related to your back or other joints, make sure they approve of your exercise regimen. Some exercises can increase your pain or make your situation worse, so let your health-care consultant guide you to the best ones for you.
As you start an exercise program, remember: You did not get out of shape in a day or a week; you will not get back into shape that quickly either. Therefore, start off slowly and be patient. Starting off too quickly will only increase soreness. To begin with, do your exercises three days per week, skipping a day between exercise days.
Take Your Back for a Walk
Walking may be the best activity for your spine and one of the easiest exercises to incorporate into your daily routine. The walking motion uses many of the muscles of the back, and as these muscles turn on and off, they gently pull and move the bones in your spine. These movements strengthen the muscles and lubricate the facet joints. Your walk should start slowly for about the first five minutes and then progress to a moderately brisk pace. When you walk, pretend that you are balancing a book on top of your head. This trick not only insures good posture during the exercise but also trains the muscles of your spine and stomach to hold you in good posture throughout the day.
As your conditioning improves, you can probably move on to a more advanced exercise, stair climbing. The benefits for your back are many, but stair climbing is strenuous to your total body; your heart, lungs, and legs all have to work hard with your back to perform this exercise. Before starting this one, make sure you really have the physical fitness level to tolerate it. Pushing yourself too quickly can lead to a back injury. When you use the stair climber, stand up as if you have a book on your head. Too many times you will see people slumped over forward as they perform this exercise. Although in certain instances there is a reason to perform the exercise that way, from your back's perspective, you should stand up straight.
Choose Cycling Instead
Almost as important as choosing an exercise that you need is choosing an exercise that you enjoy. After all, if you can't get yourself to do it, then it's not going to help you. Pick an exercise that you can look forward to doing regularly.
Riding a bicycle can be a good exercise for your body. It works the legs, the heart, the lungs, and, of course, the back. You do have to be careful about your posture with cycling, though. People tend to slump when riding, because they are tired and should rest, or because they are just not thinking about their posture. Be aware of your posture.
How the seat and handlebars are set can make a big difference in your back position. Stationary and mountain bikes are probably the best types for your back, because they sit you upright more than road and touring bikes do. The latter types usually have drop handlebars, which force you to bend over and round your back. If you usually stand on your feet all day long, you might actually benefit from exercise on a road bike in a bent over, yet supported, position. For most people, though, setting the handlebars up high enough to lean on without slumping over is best.
Set the seat height such that you bend slightly at the knee when the pedal is in the down position. If you raise the seat too high, you can make your back bend from side to side and rotate too much as your feet try to reach the pedals. This twisting can irritate your back. As you ride your bike, remember that you are doing it for your back and your good health, not for competition. Keep your gears set so that pedaling is easy. Your back will get a lot of exercise without a lot of irritation if you keep it in low gear.
Maybe cycling just isn't an option for you. Exercise in the water may be more your style, and it certainly can feel great on your back. Water supports your body, and when the temperature is moderately warm, swimming warms muscles and opens blood vessels, relaxing your back. Also, the motion of swimming uses almost all of the muscles in and around your back and increases joint lubrication and overall flexibility.
Even if you are an out-of-shape novice for whom swimming seems too strenuous, you can learn to use the water to your advantage. If you are not a good swimmer, try using a flotation device so you can stay afloat without exhausting effort. For example, a wet vest allows you to walk or run in deep water without touching the bottom of the pool. You don't even have to know how to swim at all to wade through the shallow end of the pool and receive the benefits of the water's resistance and buoyancy.
You can also swim with a flotation device. For example, hold one between your thighs to keep your legs on top of the water with your upper body. You can also get hand paddles so that you can move through the water with less effort while still receiving the benefits for your back. Be aware that the water, even though it feels invigorating while you are in it, does provide a lot more resistance to the movement of your arms, legs, and body than you may be accustomed to. This can tire you out quickly and leave you fatigued for some time. Start out easy, and progress more slowly than you might with some other activity, such as walking.
Exercise alone won't be enough to keep your back limber. For some easy and effective stretches you can do to keep your back loose, turn to the next section.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.