Back pain is a common ailment among North Americans. It can range from mild discomfort, to pain that prohibits you from working or participating in your favorite leisure activities.
Exercise is paramount to back health because weak back
and abdominal muscles, and muscular tension or inflexibility are major sources of pain in this part of the body. Inadequate physical conditioning increases your risk of suffering from backaches. And if you lift heavy objects, have poor posture and/or sit or stand for prolonged periods, the chance of developing back pain is even more likely.
Preventing back pain before it strikes means exercising. A carefully planned fitness program can also help manage existing problems. Cardio workouts that are jarring, such as running; those that require a fair amount of torso twisting, as in tennis; or contact sports are usually troublesome for people with back pain. Non-impact activities like swimming, aquafit classes and stationary cycling are better choices for those in recovery.
Keep in mind that if you have a history of back pain, you should be diligent about proper bike adjustment. For most people with back problems, bicycle handlebars should be high so the rider can sit in a comfortable, relatively upright position.
Stretching can also help stave off back pain. Since tight back muscles can lead to tension or spasms, stretches like the cat stretch - rounding the back while on your hands and knees - can help alleviate discomfort.
Poor muscle tone is also a major risk factor for back pain or strain. Often, people create or exacerbate muscle imbalances by training anterior muscles (the ones they can easily see in the mirror), with little regard for the body's posterior muscles. All torso training should include back exercises. Training your abs without consideration for your low back is not a complete workout.
There are plenty of exercises for conditioning your low back. Try this low back exercise with the stability ball* Place the ball in a clear space on the floor. Kneel on the floor with the ball in front of you. Slowly roll onto the ball so that your midsection is supported. At the same time, place your hands on the floor in front of the ball, taking care not to lock your elbows. Extend your legs behind you with your toes lightly touching the floor. If you are unable to comfortably reach the floor, you may be using a ball that is too big.
Once you are in position on the stability ball, lift one hand and the opposite foot off the floor. With your hand in a thumbs-up position, raise your arm and simultaneously lift the opposite leg until both are level with, or slightly higher than, your torso. Maintain neutral posture through the neck and spine. Release and repeat with the other arm and leg. Make sure you are using slow, controlled repetitions during this exercise. Avoid excessive arching through the back.
*If you have a history of back problems or currently suffer from back pain, begin by consulting a medical practitioner to determine the exercises and fitness program that are best for you.Amanda Vogel, MA