Is Zumba Safe for the Back?

Is Zumba Safe for the Back?
Is Zumba Safe for the Back? (Image: GeorgeRudy/iStock/GettyImages)

Moving your body to the beat in Zumba is a fun way to burn off energy and simultaneously learn how to dance. However, if you have a back injury, you might want to avoid these high-energy workouts. There's a lot of movement of the spine, especially of the lower back, which is an often-injured area.

What is Zumba?

Zumba is a dance fitness class developed in the 1990s by Colombian dancer and choreographer Alberto Perez. In its infancy, Zumba used primarily Latin-influenced dance music and moves. Salse, merengue and cumbia were the main dance forms used.

Now, Zumba has expanded to include dance and music styles from different parts of the world, like reggaeton and belly dancing. These dance styles make up the bulk of a Zumba class. They also infuse basic fitness moves like jumping jacks to keep the intensity high.

While it is low-impact compared to a plyometric or weight-lifting workout, there's a lot of movement in each Zumba class. The moves are fast-paced and varied. Having a healthy body will help you get through each workout. If you're injured, the number of moves that you can do will be limited.

Risks of Zumba

A back injury can hold you back in Zumba class. It might even be reason enough to skip dancing altogether. Most people have 25 vertebrae in their spine, with small discs in-between each vertebra. An injury to the bones, discs, ligaments or muscles of your spine will leave you feeling vulnerable. Back injuries can be very debilitating because you use your spine so often in everyday activities; if you aggravate them in Zumba, you can put yourself out of commission when it comes to the rest of your day.

The style of dance that Zumba classes use can be especially concerning if you have a back injury. Booty-shaking moves where you gyrate your hips are fun to do unless your back is hurt. These moves require a lot of contribution from your spine, especially in your lower back. To shake your booty, you have to bend your spine to the left and right. So, if you have an injury on either side of your lower back, you can aggravate it with these moves.

Many of the dance moves also have twisting of both the upper and lower half of your body. Twisting is a vulnerable movement for your spine because it's not designed to rotate more than 30 degrees to either the left or right.

Fitness Sport Dance, Woman Dancer Flying Hair Dancing on Concrete
Booty-shaking moves can aggravate back injuries. (Image: inarik/iStock/GettyImages)

Injuries to Watch Out For

Disc herniations are a common back injury. You get a disc herniation when one of the discs between the vertebrae becomes compressed so some of the jelly-like center spills out, pressing on nerves in the area and causing pain.

If you have a disc herniation, it's important to let it heal. To heal, you have to let the injury rest, which means that you shouldn't aggravate it by moving that area of your spine. The quickness and range of motion that you use in Zumba means that there's a high probability of further compressing your disc and aggravating an injury.

Fractures of the spine are another common injury. Anything from a hairline break or a more dramatic break of the vertebrae of your spine counts as a fracture. Just like with a disc injury, you want to avoid moving the area that's fractured in case you aggravate the injury.

Read more: Zumba Exercises

Benefit of Zumba

Although it may seem counterintuitive, staying active can also help with back pain. A review of the research published in Healthcare in 2016 notes that movement increases circulation and the flow of nutrients to the injured vertebrae. Regular exercise can help keep your back strong. If you have a fresh back injury, you should let it heal. However, if your injury is healed, Zumba might actually help your back because you move it often in class.

There are also different forms of Zumba that might be easier on your back. Aqua Zumba, where you dance in the water, is much lower-impact and can take some of the pressure off of your back. There's also resistance from the water which will slow your movements down, letting you tune in to your back and figure out what hurts and what doesn't.

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