Back to Basics: Exercises Strengthen Muscles Around the Spine

Stretching, strengthening and aerobic exercises can help reduce chronic or temporary back pain.

Keep in mind, however, that over-straining the back from too much or improper exercising could do more harm than good.

Most back pain can be avoided or minimized if you are active and avoid positions and activities that may increase or cause pain — including bad posture at your computer workstation or sleeping positions on mattresses that contribute to chronic aches or lifting heavy objects improperly.

Maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise can help reduce overall strain on the lower back.

It also helps you recover faster from injuries.

“Exercise increases the blood flow to the back, providing needed oxygen and nutrients,” said Dr. Ronald Tolchin, medical director of the Baptist Center for Spine Care, part of Baptist Health Neuroscience Center. “Exercise also strengthens the muscles around the spine, taking pressure off the bones and other structures in the back.”

Pain in your lower back might be the result of muscle imbalance resulting from weak abdominal muscles, which can make it more likely that you’ll have poor posture. Weak abdominals can place undo stress on the lower back muscles when lifting.

Always consult with your doctor and your trainer to determine which exercises are best for your back. The best exercise for specific back problems can be taught by trained physical therapists familiar with the best stretching and core strengthening routines.

Here’s a rundown on the types of exercises:

Brisk walking, jogging, cycling or swimming condition your heart and other muscles, helps you maintain overall health, and speeds recovery from injury. Some aerobics can strengthen stomach muscles, such as cycling and swimming.

Recumbent stationary bikes put less stress on the upper back and neck.

A supervised program is highly recommended for anyone with a history of back problems. A strength-building program will usually start with light weight-training. There are many weight-resistance machines that focus on the back muscles.  Some focus on middle and upper back muscles.

Weights are not necessary for an abdominal routine, but it is advisable to avoid straight-leg or bent-leg sit-ups or crunches if you have chronic back pain. Sit-ups and leg lifts while flat on your back can aggravate back pain.

Stretching Exercises
Certain movements can promote flexibility, which will help prevent tight muscles that deepen back pain.

Flexion based (forward bending) exercises act to slightly open up the spinal canal, removing some of the pressure from nerve compression, a symptom of spinal stenosis (narrowing of the open spaces within your spine).

A common back-flexing exercise involves lying on your back, then carefully pulling both knees to the chest while simultaneously flexing the head forward. You should feel a comfortable stretch in a balled-up position. Hold that stretch for about 20 seconds, and repeat until you feel some tension relief. This may be helpful for spinal stenosis but may increase the disc pressure in a herniated disc.

Extension-based (backward bending) exercises further narrow the spinal canal possibly putting more pressure on these nerve roots further aggravating spinal stenosis.  However, extension-based exercises may improve the symptoms for a herniated disc.

It bears repeating: Your doctor, trainer or physical therapist can best decide what exercises are best based on your specific back problem.

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With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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