Can exercise help back pain?

Most people know regular exercise will improve their appearance and general health, but few realize the positive effects that good physical conditioning can have on their low back.

A person in good physical shape is much less likely than the average person to injure their back during work or daily activities. The debate in the health care community is which exercises are best for the back?

While the merits of good conditioning are obvious, the wrong type of exercise may actually worsen your low back problem. Activities that cause physical stress on the back such as lifting heavy weights, repetitive bending or high impact exercises (running) can aggravate a low back condition.

The current front-runner for a program to prevent back pain is core strengthening exercises. Core exercise routines are considered by many an essential part of any back care program. The theory is that a strong core will support and protect the back.

It is claimed that ‘core’ exercises train ‘deep’ (hence core) abdominal muscles along with back muscles. Of course there is nothing new about core training, it has always been around. Much in the way aerobic training was around long before people donned spandex in the 1980s, core training has always been present.

Performing push-ups works the core, the traditional aerobics-class doggy kicks work the core, and even various sports drills work the core.

The core muscles are triggered when there is an emphasis on engaging the abdominals or moving with good posture.

A problem with training core muscles is that some core strengthening routines can strain the spine. So it’s a good idea to choose the safest, not the most extreme, core moves.

How one should train their core muscles safely and effectively is an emerging debate within the rehabilitation field. For example, in the past there has been an emphasis on high-repetition crunches. However, current theories suggest that crunches or other abdominal moves where the spine bends repeatedly, excessively or with too much force cause repetitive trauma to the spine.

Core abdominal and back muscles work to either move the spine or hold it steady. When it comes to strengthening the spine, the goal is to stabilize not move the spine. Proper core training will minimize the load on the spine when it is moving.

To choose the most effective and safe abdominal training regimen, you must balance between strengthening muscles and minimizing stress on the back. High reps are not a good idea when it comes to your back. There can be cumulative damage to the spinal tissues even when no pain is felt.

The best way to train the core is in a way that protects the back. Keep the spine stable, relatively straight, and focus on contracting the abs lightly for an extended period of time. There are many yoga and Pilates variations that can achieve this goal.

However, for most of us it is not necessary to take a special class to develop core strength. Instead of performing a high number of crunches, try reduced repetitions but holding the crunch for several seconds each time. Even easier, simply maintaining perfect back posture and engage the torso muscles during movements to work the core.

Try to consciously maintain good posture throughout all daily movements, such as when you are sitting, walking and standing. These are the activities the core muscles are designed to aid, and the best time to train the core muscles.