My Low Back Exercise Program
In 1999, low back pain crippled me. I stopped working. I stopped playing. My life stopped suddenly in its tracks. When I saw my MRI, I cried. Good grief, why me? Bound and determined to get my life restarted, I eventually connected with an amazing, yet stern, physical therapist. He pushed me, challenged me and held me accountable for my body. After a grueling six months in physical therapy, I was released to continue my home exercise program independently.
Now, 13 years later, I am still faithful to my low back exercise program.
Most of my exercise equipment is in my office. People often ask about it with a scared look on their face probably because they think that I am going to put them through their paces. I just smile and say it’s for me. Yes, I use a treadmill, an upright stationary bicycle, a wobble board, a Swiss Ball, a back trainer and free weights. At home, I have another Swiss Ball and miles of trails to walk on.
I always exercise in the morning to start my day off with a gift for my faithful, hard-working body. Thirty to forty minutes of aerobic exercise is spent using a combination of both the bicycle and treadmill. Because my low back is sensitive to extension, I tend to favor the bicycle because too much treadmill work hurts me. After I’ve worked up a good, dripping sweat, I switch to core strengthening exercises.
The Swiss Ball has been a constant tool in my life with back pain. I do various exercises on it including: sit-ups, bridges, push-ups, airplanes, and side bending. All the while, the ball is challenging my core muscles to maintain my balance. In addition to these powerful exercises, I will also do similar ones using a wobble board.
Next, I use a back trainer to assist me in doing a "sit-up" in the reverse direction, targeting the buttock muscles and back extensors instead of the abdominal muscles. This extremely valuable, yet often overlooked exercise is similar to using a Roman Chair. Usually, I add free weights into the mix while on the back trainer and while doing squats. And sometimes I will finish my workout by standing on the wobble board, especially practicing to stand on one leg.
To be honest, learning to do all of these exercises was challenging and painful. But my physical therapist guided and pushed me to the point that I was able to do everything comfortably and independently. Based on my experience, I know that many people are frustrated by exercises that are too difficult to start with and give up when things start to hurt. The key to developing a successful low back exercise program is to start at an appropriate level for your level of fitness, work in small increments, set appropriate goals, and accept a little bit of extra soreness at first.
In order to find the right physical therapist for you, please find a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists. I did. For additional information about good exercises for your spine, I love and use the Spinal Stabilization book by Rick Jemmett.
In my life, I consider my exercise program to be as important as brushing my teeth. I don’t go a day without brushing my teeth and I don’t go a day without exercising.
Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.