Exercise is an important part of spine health, but the wrong exercises can aggravate back pain rather than help it. While you should avoid anything that makes your back pain worse, whether it is recommended or not, this list should give you an idea of what exercises to avoid.
Avoid This: Sit-ups
Core and abdominal strength is important to support the spine. When many people think of abdominal workouts, the first thing that comes to mind is sit-ups. However, most people use their hip muscles when doing sit-ups, which puts unnecessary strain on the lower back and spine and can put too much pressure on the discs in the lower back.
Try This Instead: Pelvic Tilts
Pelvic tilts help to strengthen the core, but are much safer for the back. Lie on your back with your knees bent, then tighten your abdominal muscles until your lower back is pressed against the floor. Hold this position for 10 seconds, then release. Repeat this move up to 10 times.
Avoid This: Leg Lifts
Lying on your back while raising and lowering your straightened legs puts too much stress on your lower back. It also leaves you at risk for muscle strains. While this exercise may be recommended for core strength, you should choose something that is easier on your back.
Try This Instead: Reverse Curl-Ups
Reverse curl-ups target the same area as leg lifts, but aren’t as harsh on the back. To get in the starting position, lie on your back with your arms extended straight out to your sides, palms down and your knees raised, bent at a 90-degree angle with your feet off the floor. From there, slowly bring both knees into your chest, lifting your hips off the floor. Return to the starting position and repeat.
Avoid This: Forward Bends
Too-tight hamstrings can make the lower back work harder. Bending forward to touch the toes is often used to stretch the hamstrings, but it puts too much stress on the spinal discs and ligaments in the back. It’s best to avoid this stretch, particularly if you have a bulging or herniated disc in your lower back.
Try This Instead: Hamstring Stretch with a Towel
To do this stretch, lie on your back with one knee bent. Wrap a towel behind the foot of the opposite leg, using it to pull the leg up. Straighten the leg, and hold for 15 – 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
Avoid This: Overhead Weight Lifting
Although overhead weight lifting can strengthen the shoulders, it can also compress the spine. For this reason, it’s best to avoid lifting overhead, particularly with heavy weights.
Try This Instead: Lateral Raises
Lateral raises strengthen the shoulders without putting stress on the back. Choose a pair of dumbbells that aren’t too heavy for you. Hold them in front of your, elbows slightly bent. Raise both arms up and out until they’re at shoulder height, then return to the starting position and repeat.
Avoid This: High-Impact Aerobics
High-impact aerobics, particularly those done on a hard surface, can be jarring on the spine. If you already have back pain, it’s best to avoid activities like running, tennis, and high-impact classes.
Try This Instead: Low-Impact Aerobics
There are plenty of aerobic activities that you can participate in that won’t put as much stress on your back. Many people with back pain find water aerobics or swimming to be helpful because the water provides resistance while also supporting the body. Even switching from running to walking can reduce the impact on your spine.
The suggested exercises should help you to reduce your back pain without risking more back pain in the process. However, if you have recurring back pain, you should see a doctor, especially before beginning any fitness routine. For more exercises to help with back pain, try these 6 Stretches and Exercises for Back Pain.