Freezing temperatures and icy ground conditions make going outside a risk you might not be willing to take. But did you know that movement can strengthen your back muscles and offer some pain relief?
Lower back pain has many possible causes including irritation to nerves and joint swelling. Treatment varies depending on the severity of the pain and how long you have been experiencing it. There was a time when doctors would prescribe bed rest, but research has proven that lying down for long periods does more harm than good.
Of course, not just any exercise will do. If you’re already in pain, then you’ve got to be careful with how you work those tender muscles. Avoid sit ups, leg lifts, and forward bends. Anything that works the hips puts extra strain on the back. Additionally, overhead weightlifting can compress the spine. Add high-impact aerobics, particularly those done on a hard surface, can be jarring on your back.
The right exercises can help to strengthen the back and the surrounding muscles, which can decrease stress on the back and allow for better mobility. Exercises shouldn’t focus solely on the back muscles. Weakness and tightness in the neck, shoulders, hips, glutes, hamstrings, and abdominal muscles can also contribute to back pain. Here are a few:
Stretch your neck and shoulders
First, gently bend your head forward, bringing your chin toward your chest until you feel a stretch in the back of your neck. Next, gently bend your head to one side as if you are trying to touch your ear to your shoulder. You should feel a stretch down the side of your neck and the top of the shoulder. Repeat this stretch on the opposite side.
Stretch your back
Lie on your back and bring both knees into your chest. Then flex your head forward until you feel a stretch. Next, lower both feet to the floor with your knees bent, and use both hands to pull one knee toward the chest. Repeat with the opposite knee.
Stretch the hips and glutes
Stand with your hips shoulder-width apart. Take half a step back with your right foot, and bend your left knee, shifting your weight to your right hip. Bend forward, keeping the right leg straight, and reach down until you feel a stretch. Repeat on the opposite side. Then, lie on your back and cross one knee over the other. While keeping your legs crossed, use both hands to pull the lower knee in toward your chest. Repeat on the opposite side.
Do low-impact cardio
Try walking briskly—either outdoors or on the treadmill. If you go to the gym, you can also try the stationary bicycle, elliptical machine, or step machine. The goal is to get your heart rate up without the jarring impact on your spine. Some patients find the “weightless” feeling of water exercises easier and less painful.
You should consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. If any exercise becomes too painful, discontinue that exercise. Exercise is always just one option when dealing with pain. If you don’t feel any relief after a couple of weeks, talk with your doctor about other noninvasive pain management techniques.
Sticking to your routine is important, but you also need to pay attention to repetitive motions that strain your back. A carefully structured exercise program can not only get you ready for beach season, but it can increase your comfort level.