A Balanced Approach to a Pain-Free Back
By Michael A. Sallustio, CPFT, CNC
Whether your back pain is caused by tired muscles or a herniated disk, it is possible to be pain-free for life by incorporating a simple yet balanced exercise routine into your lifestyle. Too many people fighting back pain have attempted to take on an exercise program only to end up re-injuring their backs or finding little to no long-term relief. The key is striking the proper balance of spinal stability and spinal mobility through exercise and increased awareness.
If you are managing your sore back or any other pain with anti-inflammatory or pain killer medications, don’t forget that these drugs were designed for the temporary relief of pain. They do carry side effects and eventually take a toll on your body. Besides, the underlying cause of that pain is still there. And with the added risk of heart disease now associated with the daily use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID’s), there is yet another reason to take a more active role in putting this misery behind you.
There are certain crucial steps one must take to increase both the stability and mobility of the spine. The first step, ideally with the help or guidance of a qualified professional, is to create some self-awareness with regard to how you move. How is your balance? Where are you tight? Where are you weak? To what extent are these limitations preventing you from moving properly and perpetuating or exacerbating your condition? Believe it or not, awareness alone will improve your mobility and lessen your pain to some degree.
The next step is to strengthen the core muscles. These are the deep abdominals, the lower back, and the gluteals. Strengthening the core can be accomplished through focused and consistent resistance exercises using merely your own body weight and a stability ball. Other methods of core strengthening are the Pilates method and a more rigorous muscle conditioning program using elastic tubing or cable-based resistance machines. Pilates also has the inherent benefit of fostering greater body awareness.
Finally, stretching any tight muscles in the lower back, pelvis and upper legs is important. There are many ways to stretch. Generally speaking, dynamic stretching is best prior to activity (before the muscle is warmed up) and static stretching is best after activity. Dynamic stretching is characterized by rhythmic, pulsing motions. Static stretching is holding a stretch for 30-60 seconds while breathing deeply. Yoga is another way to promote flexibility in the muscles, while carrying the added benefits (excluding power yoga) of reducing stress and lowering blood pressure.
Keep in mind that while stretching is important, it is often overdone. The most common mistake is stretching muscles that are not tight or already weak. This only creates more imbalance and promotes further injury.
Remember, the key is balance. There is no one exercise or magic pill that will work forever. And each individual’s situation requires a different combination of exercises. It is always best to seek guidance from a qualified professional.