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Cardio Exercises After Back Injury

author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
Cardio Exercises After Back Injury
Running is usually out until your back has healed. Photo Credit: ChesiireCat/iStock/Getty Images

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 exercise, such as walking, is usually OK. But, it's not your only option.

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Why Cardio Is Important

You'll benefit from getting your heart pumping and your large muscles moving during a cardio session. 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 and low-back pain have a high correlation, showed a review of the research published in a 2010 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

If you feel pain during exercise, stop.
If you feel pain during exercise, stop. Photo Credit: Dirima/iStock/Getty Images

Cardio also boosts the production of your natural pain killers, endorphins.

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 isn't a comprehensive therapy plan. Include flexibility training and strength work to support he muscles that support the spine, recommends the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Read More: Lower Back Exercises for Back Injury Rehabilitation

Choose Low-Impact

Jarring action can aggravate back pain, so usually high-impact exercise 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.

A treadmill provides you an even, cushy surface.
A treadmill provides you an even, cushy surface. Photo Credit: Ancika/iStock/Getty Images

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 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.

Read More: Elliptical Trainers and Back Pain

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