How Exercise Helps the Back

A common back pain misconception that many people have is that exercise should be avoided. Understandably, patients experiencing back pain may be fearful that exercising or stretching will aggravate their conditions. This may make them rely too heavily on medical treatments and under-emphasize the importance of exercise for healing and long term back pain relief.

But for most back problems, exercise and movement are the natural stimuli for the healing process. Controlled, gradual, and progressive exercise—rather than inactivity and bed rest—most often provides the best long-term solution for reducing back pain and preventing (or lessening) future episodes of pain. Here are 3 ways an exercise and fitness program helps to keep your back healthy and prevent injury.

1. Exercise helps to keep the back healthy by allowing vertebral discs to exchange fluids and receive nutrition. Your vertebral discs act as shock absorbers between adjacent vertebrae, as ligaments that hold the vertebrae together, and as joints that allow for slight mobility in the spine. Healthy discs will swell with water then squeeze it out, similar to the action of a sponge. This sponge action distributes nutrients to your vertebral discs, keeping them healthy. This fluid exchange also helps reduce the swelling that naturally occurs in the soft tissues surrounding injured discs. When there is a lack of exercise, swelling increases and discs become malnourished and degenerated.

2. Exercise reduces back stiffness by keeping the connective fibers of ligaments and tendons flexible. The motion produced by exercising helps lubricate the facet joints, which provide about 20% of the twisting in the neck and low back. Improved mobility through exercise helps to prevent the connective fibers from tearing under stress, which in turn prevents injury and back pain. Additionally, stretching helps to relieve stress on the low back.

3. Exercise helps to strengthen and repair the muscles that support the back. The back and abdominal muscles support the vertebral discs, facet joints, and ligaments. When back and abdominal muscles are weak they cannot support the back properly. Back exercises help to strengthen these supporting muscles, which prevents soft tissue strains (e.g. muscles, ligaments, and tendons) and provides sufficient support for the structures in the spine. To incorporate a safe and effective exercise and fitness program into your pain relief plan, consult with your chiropractor. They can assist you with the development of an appropriate list of back exercises and activities in which to engage or avoid, and will often have specific training and expertise with exercise and fitness programs for pain relief.