Back pain prevents many people from participating in some of their favorite sports and activities. Activities categorized as high impact, like contact sports and running, add stress to the spine and can trigger back pain, even cause further injury. While it seems natural to steer clear of sports and other forms of exercise when you have back pain, inactivity is not recommended.
“Movement is key to any rehabilitation program,” says Dr. Scott Rosner
, owner and physician at Weymouth Chiropractic and Wellness Center. “All exercises should always be done through a non-painful range of motion. If the patient experiences pain, I always recommend they stop the activity and revert to stretching, ice, and increased water intake to try to decrease inflammation until they can be seen and assessed.”
Fortunately, there are many low-impact ways to safely stay active for fitness and pleasure. Consult your physician to find out if any of these options are right for you.
Yoga and Pilates
Yoga and Pilates
are two low-impact practices that focus on strengthening the core, which often helps those with lower back pain.
“I recommend to all of my patients that they should participate in some form of yoga or Pilates,” says Rosner.
When done correctly, both activities help to identify muscle imbalances that can lead to injury and repair them with systematic movements that strengthen weak muscles and stretch tight ones. Modifications are readily available and encouraged for any position that causes discomfort.
Many people with back pain feel more agile in water and experience less painful movements that normally bother them on land.
“Swimming is a great activity for back pain sufferers to participate in as it offers non-weight bearing range of motion,” says Rosner.
is a safe option for the runner who can no longer pound the pavement. This cardiovascular exercise can be accomplished by running laps in the pool, or by using a flotation device to stay upright while running in place.
Aqua fitness classes are another way to do many popular higher-impact activities in a gentler environment. Dancing, kickboxing, and other forms of aerobics are all possible in the water.
Walking laps in water is a great option for hot summer days in place of a regular walk.
“In addition to helping to improve cardiovascular fitness and overall health, walking requires that an individual actively utilize muscle groups that may otherwise be dormant throughout the day and regular walking can break the cycle of an otherwise sedentary lifestyle that is likely to contribute to the development of low back pain,” says Dr. Leslie Reece
, Health Center Faculty and Assistant Professor at Logan University.
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that focuses on sequences of slow, controlled movements that are similar to martial arts but without any sparring or contact. Since it promotes relaxation of muscles, people with back pain may experience relief from their symptoms. In fact, Tai Chi is often used for pain management,
physical therapy, and stress relief. The nature of this activity creates body awareness and therefore improves balance and posture, which helps to prevent injury.
“There is some evidence that mindfulness practices, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation may have a positive effect on chronic low back pain intensity and a patient's perception of their low back pain,” says Reece. “The American College of Physicians references such activities as Tai Chi, yoga, and motor control exercises as appropriate for individuals with low back pain.”
Weight-bearing exercises not only strengthen weak muscles that could contribute to back pain, but they also build stronger bones and boost metabolism. For those interested in weightlifting, a personal trainer can help beginners reduce the risk of injury by teaching them proper form.
“A well-designed weight training program can also allow patients to build strength to support their spine,” says Rosner, who recommends planking and bridging exercises to patients with back pain. “If patients are just getting back into activity after an injury, I recommend beginning with some easy walking with a stretch program recommended to them by their chiropractor or physical therapist.”
Updated: June 24, 2021