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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Water Cooler: General exercise may help reduce low back pain

It’s no secret that sitting for long periods of time on a regular basis can lead to lower back pain. Desk jobs, sedentary lifestyles or past injuries can all be contributing factors, but luckily there are a lot of ways you can help your back heal and strengthen. Here are a few things you can do from home to help out your lower back, but make sure to consult your doctor before taking on new physical activities.

A 2016 study titled, “A Systematic Review of the Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Non-Specific Chronic Low Back Pain,” analyzed a variety of academic literature on back pain, noting that 60% to 80% of adults in Western countries are likely to experience it. With that data, the researchers created an exercise program that focused on flexibility, strength and aerobic health to aid low back pain.

This multifaceted approach would support general low back health. Building strength in the core muscles supports the spine. Increasing flexibility maintains a healthy range of motion and supports functional movement. Aerobic activity increases the blood flow through the back, reducing stiffness and allowing nutrients to reach the soft tissue and improve its ability to heal.

The study states that researchers are unsure what the most effective exercise is for a healthier back, and that 85% of back pain cases have an unknown cause. Because prescribing specific therapies is difficult unless a cause of the pain is determined, general exercise tends to be the most common recommendation. A study referenced in this review found that back pain reduced significantly in more than half of the patients after following a general exercise program. In the control group that was not participating in the exercise program, there was no significant change in pain level.

For aerobic exercise, the study notes that walking is known to be a generally safe exercise for patients with chronic low back pain. Anything that conditions the cardiovascular system can be classified as aerobic exercise. It is defined as requiring or relating to oxygen, so aerobic exercises are usually those that rely on oxygen and can make you feel out of breath, like running or swimming. Walking is a great exercise because it gets your lungs working and blood flowing without requiring any large twisting of bending movements. A brisk walk is also slow enough to still allow you to practice and focus on good posture at the same time.

When your core isn’t strong, your lumbar has a hard time being stable which can lead to extra stress in certain parts of the spine and creates higher risk of injury during demanding tasks like heavy lifting. Walking comes in handy again here because it actually activates and potentially strengthens the deep trunk muscles. Planks are intense core exercises that can be gentle on the back as long as the core remains strong and active during the pose. Bird dog is a gentle and effective core exercise. It is done by kneeling on all fours, then simultaneously reaching out one arm and its opposite leg while holding the abdomen tight.

Stretching to improve flexibility can often aid in the most immediate relief. One of the simplest is the knee-to-chest stretch. Lie on the back with knees bent, then draw one knee in at a time by the shinbone, keeping the other leg as straight as possible on the floor. You can also hug in both legs at the same time.

Lateral stretches are especially great for those who sit a lot. You can do it seated in a chair or in a straddle stretch on the floor. Raise one arm above the head and gently bend to the opposite side. Try to hold stretches for 30 seconds or more, but respect your body’s current limits.

Don’t forget to consult a doctor when beginning any new exercise regimen.