Exercise Recommendations for Low Back Pain

Exercise is an extremely important component of managing back pain.  I often will have patients ask me; what is the best type of exercise for my back?  While generalizations can be made about exercise, It is important that the exercise chosen is appropriate for your specific condition.  It is best to be evaluated by a physical therapist to prescribe an individualized program that will fit your specific condition and level of fitness.  

Generally, I like to put exercise for the spine into 4 categories:  Directional preference, Stabilization, Flexibility and Cardiovascular.

Directional Preference exercises have to do with moving your spine a specific direction repeatedly that typically results in a lessening of your symptoms.  It is well documented that when a directional preference is identified, individuals suffering with low back pain will benefit from this form of exercise.

Stabilization exercise may sometimes be referred to as: Trunk or core stabilization, core strengthening,  abdominal exercise or lumbo-pelvic stability exercises. A physical therapist can properly instruct an individual with a stabilization program.  Pilates is also specific method of performing stabilization exercise.  The ultimate goals in doing stabilization exercise, is to strengthen the muscles around your spine and pelvis in order to protect the spinal structures form unwanted stress or excessive movement.  

Flexibility exercise may also be referred to as stretching or mobility exercise.  Flexibility exercises are prescribed with the intent of improving length of a muscle or improving movement of a joint.  Typically, individuals with low back pain will benefit by improving the flexibility in the hips and lower extremities, thereby reducing stress on the low back.  

Cardiovascular exercise may include many types of activity.  The hallmark of a cardiovascular activity is that you must be working at a level of intensity that will result in an increase in heart rate for a period of time.  Cardiovascular exercise can provide many total body benefits, aid in disease prevention and assist with weight loss (a bonus result that can help reduce low back pain).  Many times, it is difficult to perform cardiovascular activity with back pain.  A physical therapist can assist in suggesting a specific method that should not elevate your pain levels.  In fact, many times patients will note pain relief due to an Endorphin release, which is a natural chemical released during exercise.  

It is well documented that exercise is a very beneficial component to managing back pain.  A physical therapist is uniquely educated to provide the best prescription to match your specific condition and fitness level.  Prior to starting a new exercise program, it is important to be medically cleared by a Physician if you are over 50, or suffer from a heart condition. 

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