Exercise Beneficial for People with Back Pain

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Almost every Sunday morning, I wake up early so I can turn on CBS Sunday Morning, which airs informative stories that often last for 6-7 minutes (as opposed to the snapshot you get from watching the evening news). During yesterday’s show, CBS correspondent Martha Teichner reported that eight out of 10 Americans will have debilitating back pain during their lifetime, causing them to have difficulty walking, bending over or even lying down.


    This back pain often is called by problems with the disc. One possibility is that the disc is worn out and arthritic; however some people experience a herniated disc, which means the fluid between the discs is squeezed out, thus placing pressure on nerves.  "You need to make sure the patient doesn't have tumor or infection, but once you rule those out, you can be confident that you're not going to harm the patient by saying, 'OK, give yourself four to six weeks.'" Harvard Medical School Professor Augustus White told Teichner. The story noted that 90 percent of disc injuries will heal themselves after a few weeks, especially if the person who is afflicted also participates in physical therapy.

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    That information just surprised me! So I decided to do a little research about back problems and exercise. It turns out that back pain often starts due to incorrect movement or long-term high impact exercises that put undue stress on the lower back or require sudden twisting movements (think of golf or football).

    Experts often recommend physical therapy with a trained professional is especially useful if back pain still remains after 3-4 weeks.  “Exercise does not help acute back pain. In fact, overexertion may cause further harm,” the New York Times reports. “Beginning after 4 - 8 weeks of pain, however, a rehabilitation program may benefit the patient.”


    During the session, the therapist often trains the person with back pain on how to correctly move and offers exercises so that the spine can remain in a correct position throughout the day.  “Specific and regular exercise under the guidance of a trained professional is important for reducing pain and improving function, although patients often find it difficult to maintain therapy,” the Times stated. A person with back pain may engage in exercises such as walking, stationary biking and swimming (but not jogging) within two weeks of symptoms. However, during this period you should avoid exercises that put pressure on the lower back, such as straight leg sit-ups, leg curls using exercise equipment, or leg lifts while you’re lying on your stomach.

    Exercise should continue once you are able to do so. Experts recommend a combination of flexibility, endurance and strength exercises. “Exercise should be considered as part of a broader program to return to normal home, work, and social activities,” the New York Times reports. “In this way, the positive benefits of exercise not only affect strength and flexibility but also alter and improve patients' attitudes toward their disability and pain.”

  • If you do end up having to have back surgery, please know that exercise will be an important part of your recovery. “Regular exercises to restore the strength of your back and a gradual return to everyday activities are important for your full recovery,” the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website reported. “Your orthopaedic surgeon and physical therapist may recommend that you exercise 10 to 30 minutes a day 1 to 3 times a day during your early recovery.” Exercises initially can include ankle pumps, heel slides, abdominal contractions, wall squats, heel raises and straight leg raises. During the intermediate portion of recovery, you will want to add other exercises, such as the single knee to chest stretch, the hamstring stretch, and a variety of lumbar stabilization exercises using an exercise ball. Exercises that will be added when you’ve reached an advanced level of recovery may include the hip flexor stretch, piriformis stretch and the lumbar stabilization exercise using an exercise ball.  The association also recommends using a stationary bike or a treadmill for 20-30 minutes for aerobic exercises, making sure that the spine remains in a neutral position and the abdominal muscles are engaged in order to protect the lower back from injury.

    Primary Sources for this Sharepost:
    OrthoInfo.com. (2007). Low back pain exercise guide. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
    The New York Times. (2011). Herniated Disk: Exercise and Physical Therapy.

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Published On: May 07, 2012