Exercise and Back Pain

Lower back pain can be debilitating. Whatever its’ cause, it can stop you from living your usual everyday life. When it comes to exercise, most sufferers will stop, fearing that it will exacerbate the problem.

A small Canadian study has now shown that more exercise is better than less when it comes to lower back pain. The study found that exercising four days a week gave people greater relief from back pain than those who worked out fewer times per week, or not at all.

In the study, 120 people were randomly assigned to one of four groups for 12 weeks: one did a strength-training program two days a week, one did it three days per week, and one four days a week. A control group did no exercise, but instead participated in a two-week exercise-familiarisation program.

Exercises in the workout program included bench presses, lateral pull downs and leg presses.

The participants had not had any kind of back surgery, no damaged vertebrae or nerve root problems. All had chronic, non-specific lower-back pain as a result of injury to soft tissue in the lower back.

Those in the four day a week program had the biggest reduction in pain, with 28 per cent of participants reporting improved symptoms. Those who exercised two days per week reported a 14% reduction in pain.

The four day group also reported having a better quality of life and less disability than those who exercised less. In addition to these great results, those who exercised more frequently showed the greatest strength gains. The control group, who did not exercise at all, showed insignificant change in all areas.

“Why does increasing strength even make a difference?” asked lead researcher Robert Kell, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta. “Let’s say you garden or go out for a full day of activities and come home tired. We are more apt to injure our backs if we are fatigued. By increasing overall strength, it makes it easier for us to complete activities of daily living.”

“A lot of work is done with the upper body that is strenuous, so it is important to have a strong chest and back muscles so you don’t hunch forward,” he said. “It’s also important to have strong leg muscles, because if you reach down to pick something up and your legs are fatigued, you’ll lift more with your back.”

The Spinal Centre’s Comment:

This is an interesting study which shows that staying active will help your back condition. However, before we all launch into a strength training routine, it must be made clear that slow and steady is a better approach to strength training.

Anyone with back pain should consult a registered Chiropractor before proceeding with an exercise plan. In the past, those who are suffering from back pain have been advised to lie in bed and rest when in pain, however that often leads to further stiffness and weakening of the back muscles.

As mentioned in the study, it does help to strengthen the muscles of the back, stomach and legs with some gentle exercise and light strength training.

The research study basically boils down to this: Basic human reaction to pain is to stop. We associate pain with something being hurt, so we stop what we are doing, and rest more often. As the study shows, pain levels and associated symptoms can be dramatically reduced with the introduction of exercise. The joints will loosen up, the muscle relax and you will generally feel better.

Introducing a light weights program doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Taking it slowly will produce a much better outcome than going too hard, too fast. Start the program with a very light weight, completing 20-30 reps per exercise. Build up to a heavier weight, reducing your reps down to those suggested in the exercise.

To begin, the only equipment you will need is an exercise ball and a set of dumbbells. Find a nice, quiet space with a blank wall. Following these simple steps for some strengthening exercises.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Works: Shoulder, upper back, biceps, stomach

Grab one dumbbell in each hand, and sit on the exercise ball with your knees bent. Hold the dumbbells just above your shoulders, palms facing each other. Press the weights until your arms are straight overhead. Hold for 1 second, then take 3 seconds to lower the dumbbells back to the start.

Reps:  Complete 6 to eight reps, break for a minutes or two, and complete 6-8 more reps.

Hint: If you find it too hard to use both arms at the same time, do one arm at a time, 6-8 reps on each arm.

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Works: Shoulders, arms, stomach, back muscles

Stand with feet shoulder width apart, with feet pointing straight ahead. Hold a dumbbell in each hand to the sides. Draw your belly button in. Raise both arms, thumbs up, until your hands reach shoulder level. Slowly return to start and repeat.

Reps: Complete 6-8 reps, break for a minute, and complete 6-8 more reps.

Hint: If you find it too hard to straight both arms during the lateral raise, bend arms at a 90⁰  angle.

Dumbbell Front Raise

Works: Shoulders, chest, stomach

Stand with feet about shoulder width apart. Bend knees slightly. Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Place your arms against the front of the thighs or slightly to the side. Draw belly button in. Lift your arms up directly in front of you to about eye level. Keep your back straight. Slowly return back to the start and repeat.

Reps: Complete 6-8 reps, break for a minute, then complete 6-8 more reps.

Hint: If you find using two arms at the same time is too hard, use one arm alternatively, completing 6-8 reps on each.

Exercise Ball Crunch

Works: Stomach, back muscles

Sit on the exercise ball. Slowly walk your feet forward until your lower back is in full contact with the ball. Bend your knees, placing feet flat on the ground and pointing straight ahead. Place your hands behind your ears.

Tuck your chin and slowly crunch the upper body up and shoulders off the ball only as far as you are able. Keeping a controlled motion, slowly lower to the start position.

To get up, slowly walk feet back in, sitting up.

Reps: Complete 10-12 crunches, break for a minute, then complete 10-12 more.

Hint: If you find putting your hands behind your ears is too much, cross them over your chest. If you need more support, lower yourself down so the ball is in the middle of your back.

Back Extension

Works: Lower and upper back muscles, stomach

Place exercise ball on floor. Kneel down. Lie face down over the ball, with the ball placed under your hips and lower torso. Place your hands behind your head or at your sides and stay on your knees. Slowly roll down the ball and then roll back up, lifting your chest off the ball. Bring your shoulders up until your body is in a straight line without hyperextending. Slowly lower back down.

Reps: Complete 8-10 reps, break for a minute, then complete 8-10 more.

Hint: If you find it too hard to put your hands behind your ears in this exercise, cross them over your chest. Ensure that you don’t hyperextend or ‘swing’ – keep a slow, controlled movement throughout the exercise.

Ball Squat

Works: Legs, stomach

Stand with your feet wide, toes pointing out. Place an exercise ball behind your lower back for support. Bend the knees and slowly lower into a squat, keeping the knees in line with the toes. Lower down as far as your flexibility allows and push into the heels to go back to a starting position.

Reps: Complete 8-10 reps, rest for a minutes, then complete 8-10 more.

Hint: Only lower yourself down as far as you feel comfortable. Put all your weight into your heels – try not to lean onto your toes.

Fitballs are available in the clinic and online. Click here to read more about this great conditioning and strengthening exercise tool

What else can I do?

Apart from completing a simple strength routine (like the one above), aim to complete around 20-30 minutes of exercise a day. This can include just a brisk walk, a bike ride – whatever gets your heart pumping.

The best way to approach exercise is to alternate strength training with ‘cardio’ – for example Monday do your strength exercises, Tuesday go for a 30 minute walk, Wednesday do your strength exercises, Thursday go for a bike ride etc.

Doing simple exercises like these will not only help you feel better and fitter, it will also help to reduce your pain, and allows you to get the most out of every Chiropractic visit.

Reducing pain and inflammation all starts on a cellular level. Exercise will definately help, however without the nutritional support, it may all be in vain.

If you are beginning an exercise program, or are experiencing muscle pain (especially back pain), you should strongly consider the use of a muscle relaxant. Muscle relaxathe production of energy, and the health of muscles. It works to relax cramping muscles, and heal torn fibres to reduce pain.

Support optimal body function and encourage your body to heal with the use of a good quality multivitamin and CoQ10 supplement. Not only will you be filling in the gaps in your diet, you will also be encouraging your body to perform at it’s peak everyday.

What you eat has a large impact on how you feel. Eating ‘junk’ food, processed food and grain products promotes a state of inflammation – worsening your back condition and allowing you to feel less-than-average. Eat more fresh fruit, vegetables and lean meats in your diet, and eliminate grains. Educate yourself and you’ll feel better for it.