Exercises to Help Reduce Your Risk for Back Problem
Weak back muscles increase the risk of back problems, and back strengthening exercises are essential for keeping these muscles strong and protecting the back from injury. The key to strengthening the back, according to a study, is to keep the pelvis from moving so that the back muscles do the work, not bigger muscles like the gluteals (in the buttocks) or hamstrings (in the thighs). Moreover, keeping the pelvis stable forces people to move their stiff spines, and movement alone may help promote healing.
Start any exercise program slowly, preferably under the guidance of a physical therapist. If your back hurts, talk to your doctor or therapist before starting to exercise. Stop if your back pain gets worse or you experience leg pain or numbness. Avoid exercises that increase the stress on the spine, such as straight-leg toe touches or backward bends. Before performing back strengthening exercises, always warm up and then gently stretch.
These exercises—four back strengthening exercises and two back stretching exercises—will get you started. They should be done at least twice a week. Start with low resistance and few repetitions.
If you belong to a gym or health club, you can use a “Roman chair” or a Nautilus-type machine that allows you to do back extensions by leaning backward against variable resistance, without arching your back, moving your pelvis, or using your leg muscles. If you want, you can do this back strengthening exercise with an elastic band or tubing; Thera-Band and Dyna-Band are some of the brands sold commercially.
For the trunk rotations, you can use a Nautilus-type machine that allows you to twist your torso against variable resistance while keeping your pelvis in place. You can also do this exercise with an elastic band.
Back extension. Anchor elastic band to something stable below knee level. Sit upright, holding other end of band against your upper chest (band should be taut). Lean backward slowly 30 degrees, keeping your pelvis stable and back straight; don’t arch. Hold for a few seconds, return slowly. Repeat 10 times.
Trunk rotation. Anchor band to door knob. Sit at a 90-degree angle to closed door, holding other end of band against your upper chest; keep band taut. Keeping pelvis and knees in place and back straight, slowly rotate to one side against the tension. Hold for a few seconds, return slowly. Repeat 10 times, then switch sides.
Lumbar stretch (for lower back). Lying on back, clasp one hand under each knee. Gently pull both knees toward chest, keeping lower back on floor. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, relax, then repeat.
Spinal twist (for back and sides). Sit with right leg straight out, and left knee bent, with left foot placed on the outside of right knee. Bend right elbow and place it on outside of upper left thigh, just above knee, to keep that leg stationary. Place left hand behind you, slowly turn head to look over left shoulder, and twist upper body toward left arm. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.
Crunches with feet on the floor. Lie on the floor with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Place your hands behind your head. Lift your shoulders slowly until they are completely off the floor. Pause and slowly lower yourself to the starting position. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Pelvic tilt. Lie on your back with knees bent. Hold in your stomach and tighten your buttock muscles. Lift your buttocks slightly off the floor and hold for 10 seconds, keeping your lower back on the floor. Release. Repeat 20 times.
The Complete Home Wellness Handbook
John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Updated by Remedy Health Media