Back pain is common in Australia. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that about 4 million of us experienced back pain in 2017-18 and that about 70-90% of us will suffer from it at some point during our lives.
Back pain comes from a range of conditions that affect the bones, joints, muscles, nerves and connective tissues of the back. It’s influenced by your age, posture, weight, fitness levels, and the type of work you do. It’s also linked to conditions such as osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, disc disease, and your family history.
About 40% of people with back problems say that the pain interferes with their daily activities. If that’s you, should you exercise through the pain or rest?
Back Pain and Exercise
We often see clients who have been given a back pain exercise plan that just isn’t working for them. The exercise seems to be making things worse, not better. That’s usually because the cause of the back pain has been misidentified or because the exercises are not appropriate for your type of pain.
If you have back pain, then please come and see us. We can diagnose the cause and severity of your pain and then recommend treatments to improve it. It’s particularly important to get help if you’re in constant pain, if it’s bad enough to wake you at night, if there’s pain down your leg too or if the pain is following an injury.
Because so many different things can cause back pain, it’s unwise to take a one-size-fits-all approach. We need to know what is causing the pain so that we can develop an appropriate treatment plan.
For less serious cases of back pain, our general advice is to keep moving but to be careful about what you do. Exercise helps your muscles to relax and promotes healing blood flow to the affected area. It’s a fine line though – exercise too much, or in the wrong way, and you may worsen the pain. Your exercises need to be carefully chosen to ensure they do good not harm.
Lower Back Pain Workout Plan
If your lower back is hurting, then here are some back pain exercises that may help. Try to integrate these into your everyday routine so that it becomes second nature to nurture your back.
1. Walk: Walking is an easy, low-impact aerobic exercise that helps improve lower back pain. A regular 10-15 minute walk is an excellent way to begin addressing your back pain. As you walk, suck your belly button in to activate your core muscles and support your lower back.
2. Stretch: Stretching helps to improve your flexibility, so try:
- Knee-to-chest stretch: Lying on your back and bringing your knee to your chest to elongate your lower back.
- Rotational stretch: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor, then roll both bent knees over to one side while keeping your shoulders flat on the floor.
- Cat stretch: Get on your hands and knees then arch your back to lengthen it and ease tension.
- Back pocket stretch: Put your hands in your back pockets, look up, and arch your back.
- Pelvic tilts: Lie on your back with your knees bent and slowly tilt your pelvis up and down to release tight back muscles and improve flexibility.
3. Swim: Pool-based exercises, including water aerobics, can help improve your pain without putting pressure on your spine. To get the most out of pool-based exercises:
- Swim at a steady pace, recruiting your core muscles to stabilise your spine
- Walk in water, bearing some of your weight on your legs and using the water’s resistance to build your strength
- Increase resistance using hand weights or a weighted belt as time goes on.
4. Posture: Poor posture is a common cause of back pain. Posture refers to the way you stand, sit or walk. When your posture is good, your spine is nicely aligned. Bad posture, however, may mean that your spine is rarely in correct alignment. When you spend your time hunched over a computer, poking out a hip as a ledge for your toddler or habitually holding a heavy bag on one shoulder, your posture suffers. That means you over-rely on some muscles, triggering back pain. To improve your posture:
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together – it’ll instantly lift your chest
- Pull your arm across your chest until you feel a pull at the top of your arm
- Imagine a straight line passing through your body from the ceiling to the floor then line your ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles up with it
5. Support the muscles that support your back: Your abdominals, glutes and hips all help support your back so strengthening those muscles can help relieve back pain. Try:
- Bridges: Lie on your back with your feet on the floor then lift your hips up and squeeze your buttocks.
- Lateral leg lifts: Lie on one side with your legs together and your bottom leg slightly bent, then lift the top leg up to work your hip abductor muscles which support your pelvis and, ultimately, your back.
- Partial curls: These are like half sit-ups that strengthen your core and help support your spine.
6. Lighten the load: If you’re overweight, then losing a few kilos can help to ease the strain on your lower back. Exercises like walking and swimming are back-friendly ways to lose weight.
7. Listen to your body: Tune into your body as you go through your day. Is your back pain worse in the morning when you first wake up or at night when you’ve been on your feet all day? Do your exercises seem to be helping? What makes your back pain worse? What makes it better?
8. See your physiotherapist: Your physio can identify the underlying cause of your back pain and recommend an appropriate treatment plan. In addition to tailored exercises, your physio may also use hands-on treatment, massage, dry needling, ultrasound or heat to ease your symptoms and strengthen your lower back.
Back pain treatment at The Brisbane Spine Clinic
Hopefully, these exercises will lead to a gradual but definite improvement in your back pain. However, if the pain gets worse with exercise or if there’s no improvement, then please come and see us as it may be time to readjust your treatment. Don’t continue with lower back pain exercises that aren’t working or are making it worse.
We want you to have a strong, stable body and the freedom to enjoy your daily activities without pain. Please make an appointment today and get started on your recovery.