Lying out on the couch to let your back recover from injury isn't always the best strategy for healing. Exercise, including cardio, can often be the best medicine for a hurt back. Of course, the type of exercise you choose truly depends on the extent of your injury. You must clear your exercise plans with your doctor, and stop if you feel pain — especially electrical or shooting pain in your back. Cardio exercises for a bad back, such as walking, are usually OK. But, it's not your only option.
Cardio With Lower Back Pain
If you perform cardio with lower back pain, you'll benefit from getting your heart pumping and your large muscles moving. This serves to increase blood flow, which helps deliver nutrients to working muscles and joints, as well as to injured sites, including your back.
Cardio burns calories, which helps you maintain your weight, or even lose a few pounds. Keeping that weight off is important because obesity is a risk factor for low back pain, according to a December 2016 article published by Chiropractic & Manual Therapies. Cardio also boosts the production of your natural pain killers, endorphins.
Consult Your Doctor
Of course, if you have a pinched nerve, slipped disk or fracture, you'll need to ease into exercise slowly and with the oversight of your doctor. Some back injuries do cause limitations in movement and may best be treated with rest; however, don't let fear stop you from moving if your therapists say it'll be good for you.
Remember, cardio exercises for back pain isn't a comprehensive therapy plan. Include flexibility training and strength work to support the muscles that support the spine, recommends the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Choose Low-Impact Exercise
Activities with jarring actions are among the worst exercises for lower back pain, so usually high-impact exercises, such as running or those that include jumping, are out. Instead, opt for supported, low-impact cardio.
Workouts in the pool, whether swimming laps with the crawl or backstroke, water aerobics or water walking, support some of your weight and may allow you to exercise comfortably. The water is also a source of resistance, which can help you strengthen weak muscles.
Read more: Can You Work Out With Back Pain?
Workouts for Back Pain Sufferers
Walking may be mundane, but it really is one of the best ways to get moving when you have back pain or injury. A study published in Clinical Rehabilitation in March 2013 showed that six weeks of walking twice a week at a vigorous pace was as effective as a strengthening program in improving function in people with chronic low back pain. The 52 participants were assigned either a treadmill walk or a standard strengthening routine.
Cycling can also be a suitable low-impact option. You might choose a stationary bike to reduce your chances of a painful crash. Depending on the nature of your injury, upright bikes might be out as the forward-leaning position can aggravate pain. But, a recumbent bike supports your spine and allows you to pedal vigorously to raise your heart rate.
You may also use an elliptical trainer to get your heart pumping. The gliding rails support your body weight so you get movement similar to jogging, without all the impact.
- Chiropractic & Manual Therapies: "The Effect of Obesity on Treatment Outcomes for Low Back Pain"
- MedlinePlus.gov: "Back Injuries"
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Spine Rehabilitation Exercises"
- Clinical Rehabilitation: "An Aerobic Walking Programme Versus Muscle Strengthening Programme for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial"