Ask a PT: Can I Exercise With a Bad Back?
“I was diagnosed with degenerative disk disease a couple years ago. I get lower back pain that comes and goes. I used to love exercising and being active but have been afraid of making my back worse. Is there anything I can do to help me stay in shape but not hurt my back? –Cassie C.”
Thank you for your question and we’re happy to hear you’re wishing to continue to be active! An important thing to do now is discover which movements increase your back pain, and which movements decrease your back pain. Very simply, choose a cardiovascular exercise that does not irritate your condition. For instance, if you bend forward as if trying to touch your toes and it makes your back feel better, you may want to try forward-flexed activities such as cycling. If it feels better to bend backwards, you would want to try swimming for your cardiovascular exercise.
Sometimes symptoms are variable and do not seem to get worse or better with certain movements. This can make it difficult to know which mode of exercise is best before trying them. If this is the case, it is best to ease into an activity and assess how your back feels:
- During the Activity
- Soon after the Activity
- 24 Hours after the Activity
You can start out by going on a walk or run – on softer, even surfaces – for 10 minutes and then, if you experience no pain, increase distance or time incrementally until you’ve achieved your desired time/distance. If you realize your back pain increases after 25 minutes, but did not increase after 20 minutes, it may be best to limit yourself to 20 minutes at one time.
In addition to cardiovascular exercise, it is important to develop a stretching and strengthening routine that also does not increase your symptoms. Areas that can contribute to back pain due to tightness include hamstrings and quadriceps which may need stretching. Another important area is your core which is crucial to strengthen in an appropriate and pain free manor to keep you healthy and active.
If you feel your low back pain is getting worse or would like guidance specific to you, it may be best to seek professional medical guidance including a physical therapist.
Thank you for your question and we hope this helps you stay healthy!