Before beginning an exercise regimen, however, it’s important to talk to a doctor or physical therapist, as some physical positions and activities may cause more harm than good and are therefore best avoided.
Stretches and Yoga Positions to Avoid
Yoga and stretching can do wonders for lower back pain symptoms, particularly when working with an instructor who understands which positions are contraindicated during a flare up. In general, any stretch that places too much pressure on or twists the spinal column should be avoided during flare-ups of back pain, including:
- Forward bends: standing bends with a reach towards the toes are primarily intended to stretch the leg muscles rather than the lower back, but people with back trouble are often unable to maintain proper curvature of their spine to safely complete this group of poses. Seated bends may be suitable but should be used with caution.
- Backward bends: back bend positions such as the standing back bend overly compress the spine and are best avoided until pain subsides.
- Abdominal twists: lower back pain may be caused by a bulging disc or pinched nerve which may be aggravated by any twisting motion (side bends are best avoided as well).
Be Gentle with Abdominal Exercises
While it is true that the abdominal muscles help support your lower back, painful flare up periods are not the appropriate time to complete full sit up or straight leg lift exercises. Partial crunches performed on your back with your knees bent and your feet, tailbone, and lower back held steady while lifting your shoulders off the mat and reaching for your toes can strengthen abdominal muscles without damaging your back. As an alternative, place your hands behind your head, using care not to pull upwards on your head or “lead” with your elbows.
High Impact Activities Tend to Aggravate Symptoms
Lower back pain is typically aggravated by the natural jarring and twisting which occurs during high impact activities such as jogging, tennis, contact and/or adventure sports. Additionally, golf is often reported to increase back pain due to the repeated one-sided movements required.
Regardless of whether or not you have been exercising previously, you can begin a routine or replace high impact activities with a swim in the pool or a session on a recumbent stationary bicycle or elliptical trainer to obtain an excellent workout with very little stress on your back.
Don’t Add Additional Weight to Your Spine
Lifting weights above your head or adding any type of weight to your shoulders (as in weighted squats) should be strictly avoided if you are experiencing any pain in your lower back. Weights that tend to compress your spinal column are likely to further damage your back, possibly leading to a long term injury. Although some weight lifting activities that isolate the muscles in your arms or legs may still be safe, it’s important to work with a personal trainer to make sure you are protecting your lower back muscles.
Avoid Exercising Before a Warm Up Period
Because a proper warm up period helps loosen muscles and gets your circulation going, it’s one of the best ways to prevent additional back injuries and/or pain resulting from physical activity. Try a simple cat-cow yoga stretch followed by a 5-10 minute walk before your workout routine to avoid placing sudden pressure on your spinal column or overly straining tight lower back muscles.
Work with Your Doctor or Therapist to Develop a Safe Fitness Regimen
Although the avoidance of certain exercises and activities during a lower back pain flare up is important to allow healing and prevent further damage, plenty of alternatives exist that still allow you to maintain or improve your overall level of health while gently strengthening your back and abdominal muscles without excess strain on your lower back. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist for help developing a fitness regimen that best meets your needs and protects your spine and back.