I don't know if I can think of a single person who hasn't at one time or another suffered some sort of back pain. Like many of you, I have had my share of back injuries. I like to workout and stay in shape, keeping my body healthy, which can be tricky when worried about a bum back. Obviously I am not a chiropractor, physical therapist or personal trainer, so one should seek one out and work with a professional depending on their own level of need.
With my own back, I was already through the phase of restoring the original injury and while exercise, other than back strengthening exercises were shelved, I was then ready to start looking for exercises that I could do for my whole body health, without worrying about re-injurying my back. I wanted to know what movements I could do to keep moving. While trolling articles, websites, and old exercise videos, these are what I came up with to work for me.
My chiropractor gave me exercises specifically for my training, so I do those spinal health exercises daily. ( Be sure to get some spinal health exercises going by asking your chiropractor) But I also wanted a mild routine to continue gently working the rest of my body.
Keep in mind, these are not exercises to restore the back, but to keep moving the body in ways that are gentler on the back. Please employ the proper professionals for yourself before beginning any exercise protocol.
1. Avoid Toe Touches, this also means yoga forward flexion movements. This doesn't mean to avoid yoga altogether, which can be very healing, just focus more on movements and poses. The key is to avoid forward flexion. There are back specific yoga videos if one is really wanting to keep their zen on while still protecting their back.
Partial crunches on your back. Feet flat on the floor, and low back pressed into the floor while engaging the core. Breathe out, and then while breathing in, pull the belly button to the spine(which is pressed against the floor) Focus on these stomach muscles and allow them to pull the shoulders off the ground only by an inch or two
2. Avoid situps, which are too straining and can cause further injury.
Try instead: Hamstring Stretches. Lie on your back, much like for the partial crunches we did previously. With feet flat on the floor, lift one leg and loop a towel under the ball of one foot. Slowly pull back on the towel, paying attention to how far your body wants to go
3. Avoid Leg Lifts, which are often suggested to strengthen the core, but this is not the exercise to restore and regain strength in the low back
Try instead: Wall sits. Stand about a foot from the wall, lean back until back is flat against the wall and slowly slide down until your knees are at a 90 degree angle. The great thing about these is that you have the strength of the wall behind you to press the back up against it to support it. Also, these really work the large thigh muscles that we want to make use of, both in back support and flexibility, but also in keeping up with metabolic balance.
4. Avoid seated V and touch your toes. This again is a forward flexion type movement that doesn't allow for mobility of strained muscles, but only further strains them
Try instead: Press up Back Extensions. Lie on your stomach. With your elbows directly below your shoulders and your palms face down in front of you, slowly press up
5. Ditch Downward Dog. While many yoga poses are forward flexion and we want to avoid those like Downward Dog, one can switch to:
Try instead: Bird Dog. Start on hands and knees and again pull belly button in toward spine. Lift and extend one leg behind you and the opposite arm straight out in front of you. Do this all while keeping the hips level and facing forward. Hold and release, switch sides.
6. Pelvic Tilts are an absolute must and can be done at almost any level. LIe on the back with feet flat on the floor and engage stomach muscles again. Tip the pelvis so the sacrum presses into the floor.
7. Other exercises to maintain strength, movement and flexibility: The worse thing to do with a back injury is to not move it AT ALL. Movements that are slow and gentle can keep the body in shape without placing too much demand on it. This may include swimming, walking and light cardio aerobic exercise. Light weight training can help as long as proper posture, weight, and reps are employed. This is where it helps to work with a knowledgeable trainer or physical therapist.
8. For other weight training or weight bearing exercise to keep my butt, belly, and thighs tone, I will do anything I can on all 4's, (while pulling my belly button to my spine, of course). Like leg lifts up and to the back. OR standing straight, like leg lifts out to the side. I do low weight, with multiple reps. The point this time, however, is NOT to tire the muscles, but to put focus on working ONLY the muscles intended.
9. One key for me is to work the muscles of the legs because they are the largest muscles in the body and a great fuel source, so I'm still keeping up with metabolic processes. At the same time remembering to then stretch those same muscles to release tension in the low back. These are done STANDING, not bending over nor a sit and stretch. I use a ballet barre but am cautious not to lift my legs to high to put strain on the back, just to feel a light stretch in the quads. A low chair or stool could be used.
10. I used to dance ballet and know it to be a very cardio intensive, muscle strengthening and toning workout. Because it is so intent on posture perfecting, it can be a great supportive workout and strengthen the back, again, if you pay attention to not overdo it, and remember to avoid any forward flexion. These are the times where I return to ballet workouts and/or ballet barre workouts. Again, check with the health professional that's working with you to find out if it's right for you.
The key is to always LISTEN to your own body.
One Core Key: Engage your stomach muscles in all you do! Pull that belly button to the spine, while being mindful to keep the back muscles relaxed as you do it
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