Back pain is no fun. But the solution doesn’t have to be hard work and pain. In fact, it can be downright enjoyable, because the things we call play are good for your back.
Do a little dance
Take dancing, for example. Done right, dancing is great exercise for your back. Why? Because movement generally is good for your back: it keeps your muscles limber and prevents them from atrophying from lack of use.
Additionally, research shows that people tend to move in a more fluid motion when they dance, moving muscles through their full range of motion in smooth movements conducive to building strength and flexibility without injury. When we dance, we sway and move freely, releasing tension. So if you like to dance, that’s a great way to reduce back pain. Just make sure not to move in any herky-jerky motions, attempt any moves that put excess pressure on your back, or repeat any motions that cause pain.
Everyone in the pool
Swimming and other water activities are also recommended for people with back pain. The human body is nearly weightless in chest-high water; in fact, we weigh less in that much water than we would weigh on the moon. The buoyancy relieves pressure from our musculoskeletal structures, particularly our joints, while providing resistance to our movements.
Swimming is easier on joints than any other exercise while providing a tremendous cardiovascular workout that requires use of muscles often neglected, like those in the back and hips. Depending on the stroke, swimming strengthens many muscle groups, from the legs to the upper back and shoulders, on both sides of the body equally. And because there are different ways to swim, you don’t need to take a day off if you alternate strokes.
Walking and water aerobics are great alternatives to lap swimming and provide many of the same benefits because water remains the common denominator. Walking in chest-high water builds leg strength, which can relieve back strain, while treating joints gently. The same with water aerobics, except the benefits are more widespread.
Downward dog and other poses
Yoga, tai chi and Pilates are designed to help people with back pain. As with other routines, proper technique is critical, and there are poses and forms that should be avoided by anyone with back pain. Yoga poses like downward-facing dog, child’s pose, and cat/cow give back muscles a good stretch and the focus on breathing helps reduce stress. Tai chi emphasizes slow movements and control, which also gently build strength and flexibility.
The great thing about these three exercise forms is that they prioritize balance between strength and flexibility. In fact, the American College of Physicians recommends that people with back pain skip the medicine in favor these kinds of alternatives.
Take a hike
One more exercise for people with back pain is good old-fashioned walking. While joints take a pounding when we run, walking is low-impact but produces the same cardio benefit. Anything that gets the heart pumping assists the back by increasing circulation and the flow of nutrients to the spine. Walking also strengthens the legs, feet, hips and torso, and maintains flexibility and posture, all of which can prevent backache. Make sure to maintain good upright posture when you walk.
Other activities that involve slow, calculated movements and a minimum of twisting can benefit people with back pain. The one thing no one with back pain should do is nothing, because body parts that aren’t used lose strength and flexibility.