When you’re dealing with back pain, it can be difficult to walk, stand, carry things, or even move. Because of that, working out might fall by the wayside. You don’t want to do anything that’s going to cause or exacerbate pain, after all. Thankfully, there’s a lot that you can do without hurting yourself any further and some things that’ll actually help.
“Since there are so many different reasons why your back can be a problem, there is no one-size-fits-all rule to exercising,” Dr. Jasmine Marcus, PT, DPT, a physical therapist, told INSIDER. “In general, however, one of the worst things you can do when your back hurts is to be scared of the pain. Research has shown that people who stay active and keep moving ultimately do the best in managing back pain. Find some way to move that doesn’t make your back pain worse. Find your triggers and stay away from them.”
Working with professionals, if that’s something that you’re able to do, can be a really good idea.
Paul Kostas, the director of personal training at Brooklyn Athletic Club, told INSIDER that a personal trainer should start with assessing the person and asking a lot of questions, such as if you’ve seen a doctor, if you’ve seen a physical therapist, if your doctor ordered any imaging tests like an MRI, what you do for work, how much activity you get, and more. Getting an idea of where you’re at, what you’ve done, and the like can help determine how the trainer should proceed and what kinds of work might be OK for you and what might be off-limits.
Warming up is important.
Whether you’re working out with a trainer or on your own, it’s absolutely essential that you remember to warm-up prior to launching into your workout.
“A thorough warm-up will improve lumbar control through a full range of motion, warm up and activate the muscles around the area and prepare the nervous system to accommodate to the tasks at hand (decreasing and susceptibility to overstretch and pain),” Dr. William P. Kelley DPT, ATC, CSCS, a physical therapist, told INSIDER.
Maximizing the number of points of contact you have with a stabilizing force — like the ground — can also be a good idea if you’re dealing with back problems.
Kostas said that this will help ensure that your torso and core stay in their proper positioning and that you’re supported, which will help reduce injury risk. Kostas also advised working one leg at a time because you’re able to make the workout difficult without going overboard on added weight and other stressors.
Since some people with back problems experience difficulties or pain when they bend forward, as Marcus said, you might find that you’re better off doing other kinds of core-strengthening activities rather than loading up on crunches or sit-ups. Kostas recommended opting for planks and other “anti-movement” exercises instead so that you can get a workout while protecting your back.
“Teach the core to brace to resist movement of the torso and that’s gonna be one of the main things that are going to help protect you from injury again,” Kostas said.
Core strength is important when it comes to protecting your back.
“If you improve your ability to know where your back is in space and utilize the muscles that cause small changes in lumbar positioning and add stability (core, diaphragm, pelvic floor) it dramatically increases safety with all exercise methods,” Kelley said.
Additionally, though you might like to add in moves that include holding weight above your head, they’re likely not a good idea if you’re dealing with back pain or other back problems.
“That will put your spine in an unprotected position and potentially at risk for further injury,” Dr. Jessica Tranchina, PT, DPT, NASM-CPT, A.R.T Certified Provider, CKTP, a physical therapist and the co-founder of Generator Athlete Lab, told INSIDER. “There are many challenging exercises that can be done below shoulder level such as bicep curls, tricep extension, shoulder work to shoulder level (not above), rows.”
It’s important that you’re performing each exercise move correctly. Damien Priester, a personal trainer and the owner of Prestige Fitness FL, told INSIDER that online videos on YouTube and other sites can help you know what you might want to do so that you’re not figuring out what kinds of core exercises you should be doing on your own.
Ultimately, figuring out what will work for you is the best way to deal with your back pain.
Going slowly is also a good idea. “Don’t do too much all at once, is my main thing,” Kostas said. “If you’re coming back to the gym, try two things maybe, and then wait a couple days and add something else in.” If you add too many exercises into your routine at once, Kostas warned that you’ll be unable to figure out which exercise was the one that hurt your back if you’re dealing with pain the next day.
And doing things without being able to control the movement can also be a big issue for those with back problems.
“Having control and purpose with movement, even if it means decreasing weight significantly is going to be very beneficial and protective for the back long term, allowing for safe strength gains to follow,” Kelley said. “Master the movement first.”
If you’re still dealing with pain, despite all of your best efforts, resting and trying to get in to see a doctor or physical therapist might be best.