Back Stories

Don’t let back pain keep you from working out

One of the most common questions we get asked by both surgical and non-surgical patients at the DISC Spine Institute is, “When can I start working out again?” Back pain can be disruptive in so many ways, and losing the ability to go to the gym, go for a run, lift weights, do CrossFit, or take part in whatever your fitness regimen may be, can be particularly disconcerting. There are many ways you can stay active despite your back pain, depending on your condition. Remember to clear any workouts with your Texas spine doctor or physical therapist first to make sure you don’t do further damage.

Alternatives when back pain keeps you from working out

Take a walk

Walking is easy, requires no equipment, and can be done just about anywhere. It may just be the perfect exercise.

Walking is considered a low-impact exercise, but it can be painful for some and may not be recommended depending on your particular back issue. For instance, those suffering from sciatica may not be able to walk comfortably and may therefore be advised to limit their steps.

If you are cleared to walk, you’ll find it has many health benefits, especially for sufferers of low back pain. Several studies have shown walking can both alleviate and prevent back pain in general. Walking:

  • helps strengthen the muscles that support the spine
  • provides a pathway for oxygen and nutrients to reach the muscles
  • helps flush toxins from muscle tissues
  • helps to improve both flexibility and stability

Go swimming

Injuries like herniated discs may mean that running, CrossFit, cycling, or weightlifting are off limits while pain is flaring and during recovery. Swimming offers a way to stay active while dealing with chronic spinal pain, rehabilitating an injury, or recovering from surgery.

Because it’s a low-impact exercise, swimming offers a wide range of health benefits that can actually help mitigate spinal pain and aid in recovery.

  • Since the water is buoyant, you don’t get the same stress on the spine and joints you might with other types of workouts.
  • The resistance provided by the water is great for conditioning and stretching.
  • Swimming provides cardiovascular benefits and helps build muscle.

There are a few things to consider before you jump in the pool:

The stroke—Some swim strokes are better than others when it comes to back pain. Backstroke is a great choice for many back injuries because it provides support for the back against the surface of the water. On the other hand, butterfly and breaststroke can stress the muscles and facet joints by causing you to arch your back. Freestyle does not force the back into an arched position, but you’ll want to pay special attention to how you feel during and after. The repetitive movement of the freestyle stroke may cause you to have pain in the shoulder or back.

The technique—No matter which stroke you use, you’ll want to make sure you perfect your technique. Just like lifting weights improperly can potentially be harmful, swimming using an improper technique has the potential to injure—or further injure—your back instead of providing the relief you’re seeking.

Pool exercises

Even if you’re not cleared to resume your regular fitness regime, you may be able to exercise in the pool. The natural resistance provided by the water eliminates the typical wear and tear of exercising on solid ground and provides a therapeutic and rehabilitative option for exercise. Exercising in warm water can also be soothing to the muscles and help manage pain, although cool water may aid in circulation.

The buoyancy of the waterworks to your advantage here, too, counteracting gravity, which can decrease the pressure on the spine. That means you can get in cardiovascular activity without the pain you might feel from repeatedly hitting a hard floor like you would in a gym environment or on the pavement. There is also data that shows the calorie burn in the pool may be higher than that of a complementary exercise out of the pool, despite the fact that your heart rate may be lower in the water. This can have long-lasting cardiovascular benefits outside of the advantages to your spinal health.

Practice yoga

Yoga provides a wealth of health benefits and can help alleviate back pain and strengthen the muscles in the back and core so that you’re less likely to be injured or suffer reinjury. Yoga is also a great stress reliever, which can help reduce muscle tension that contributes to back pain.  Several studies have shown yoga to also be effective in lowering pain and reducing reliance on pain medication for back issues.

There are specific poses, like the downward dog, that can help in relieving back pain from conditions like sciatica. The child’s pose is another gentle forward folding position that can help you stretch your spine, relax, and release back and neck tension.

Another benefit of yoga is that you don’t need any equipment. You will, however, want to purchase a mat or lay on a blanket or other soft surface for comfort.

But yoga isn’t for everyone. Certain stretches may actually aggravate your condition, so be sure to talk with your Texas spine doctor before starting any new yoga or exercise program. We can help you identify any possible risks and help monitor your progress.

Take pilates

Several research studies have shown that Pilates can also be an effective tool for relieving lower back pain. Some of the benefits of doing Pilates include improved core strength; better posture; greater muscle strength; and increased flexibility.

Lift weights

It may seem counterintuitive to lift weights with back pain, and not everyone is going to get the green light from us, especially if they have just injured themselves or had surgery.  But don’t be surprised if, during physical therapy, you’re asked to do some resistance training.  This type of strength training has been shown to be effective in building back strength and flexibility and aiding in pain management for certain spinal conditions.

Using resistance training when you have a spinal condition may help the muscles in your back function better so they can help keep your spine moving properly. Resistance training can also help you strengthen your core, as well as your shoulders and arms. Core muscles are particularly important for spinal health because they help you maintain good posture in support of your back.

When you are cleared for any type of weight training, be sure to pay special attention to technique. Lift incorrectly and you could end up injuring or reinjuring yourself. Be sure to also stretch and warm up so your muscles are ready to go and are not strained.

Chronic back pain minimally invasive treatments

If you’re ready to address your back pain or if you want more information about treatment options, contact the DISC Spine Institute, experts in minimally invasive treatments, the most effective medical procedures to treat and eliminate chronic back pain. Today’s minimally invasive procedures include outpatient treatments and easier surgical treatments with small incisions and a quicker recovery time instead of a long hospital stay.

With several DISC Spine Institute offices located throughout Dallas-Fort Worth and staffed by top Board-certified orthopedic spine surgeons, the DISC Spine Institute is well-prepared to help patients through their spinal conditions to get back to a pain-free life.

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