Back pain is one of the most common problems that older adults experience. Given the impact this type of pain can have on your life, there are various strategies to manage it. Lower back exercises for seniors are particularly helpful in pain prevention and management.
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Back Pain in Older Adults
Back pain is a very common problem. The U.S. National Library of Medicine says that 80 percent of people will experience back pain at some point in their lives.
According to a November 2014 study in the journal Neuromodulation: Technology at the Neural Interface, lower back pain can occur to people of ages — from children to seniors. However, it's an issue you're increasingly likely to experience as you get older.
Lower back pain has the potential to affect many different aspects of life. Because it can last for weeks or months at a time, back pain often affects mobility and mental health. It may even impact the ability to work or have a social life. The great thing about these simple exercises is that they can work for anyone who needs lower back pain relief; you don't have to be a senior to do them.
Talk to your doctor if your lower back pain has been bothering you for more than 12 weeks. Chronic back pain may require a specific treatment through physical therapy or need to be managed with certain medications.
Treatments for back pain can vary substantially, ranging from over the counter anti-inflammatories to surgery. Harvard Health Publishing recommends strategies like acupuncture, applying heat packs and spinal manipulation. However, physical therapy and certain forms of exercise can be helpful, too, as they can help with pain management and prevent of further episodes of back pain.
Read more: Ease Upper Back Pain With These Exercises
Lower Back Exercises for Seniors
As you get older, your body's back and abdominal muscles can become weaker. This can trigger or worsen lower back pain.
Fortunately, this can be corrected by stretching and strengthening these regions. Both Harvard Health Publishing and a January 2016 publication in JAMA Internal Medicine say that exercise can help manage and prevent future bouts of lower back pain. Good exercise routines typically focus on your back, buttocks and abdominal muscles.
Everyone's lower back pain is different. This means that the recommended back extensor exercises for elderly adults with arthritis may not be appropriate for seniors who have back pain caused by a spinal problem. Consult your doctor or physical therapist before starting a new exercise routine.
Read more: The Ultimate Back Strength Workout
Front planks are one of the most well-known exercises for strengthening your core.
- Lie on a mat, so that your forearms are on the mat and your elbows lie under your shoulders. Your legs should be pressed together so that your body is a straight line.
- Lift your body up, so that your weight is supported by your forearms and forefeet.
- Hold the position for 60 seconds, rest, and repeat two-to-three times.
- Don't let your back sag or arch when doing this exercise — make sure that your hips and back are kept straight.
You can also do planks with your knees bent for a slightly easier variation of this exercise.
2. Side Plank
You can also try another variation of the plank, called the side plank.
- Lie down on a mat so that you're on one side. Make sure that your lower forearm is resting on the mat. Your arm should be at a 90-degree angle so that your elbow is under your shoulder.
- Rest your upper leg on top of your lower leg, straightening your knees and hips.
- Raise your body up by straightening your waist. Your entire body should be rigid.
- Hold the position for 30-to-60 seconds.
- Turn to the other side and repeat. Each side should be done two-to-three times.
The lying scissor kick is more active than the plank and side plank.
- Lie on your back so that your body forms a straight line. Place your hands underneath your buttocks.
- With both legs held straight, lift one leg up. As you begin to lower it, simultaneously raise the other leg. Your legs should move at the same time, so that one leg is being raised while the other is being lowered.
- Continue switching between left and right legs.
- Do two-to-three sets of 10 kicks per leg (20 kicks total).
For more lower back exercises for seniors, check out Dr. Stuart McGill's exercises, which are recommended by the American Council on Exercise. Harvard Health Publishing also recommends incorporating yoga, tai chi and other gentle stretches into your exercise routine.
- American Council on Exercise: "Low Back Exercises: Stuart McGill’s Big Three"
- ExRx.net: "Front Plank"
- ExRx.net: "Side Plank"
- ExRx.net: "Lying Scissor Kick"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Back Pain"
- Neuromodulation: Technology at the Neural Interface: "Epidemiology of Low Back Pain in Adults"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Here’s Something Completely Different for Low Back Pain"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "5 Steps to a Pain–Free Back"
- JAMA Internal Medicine: "Prevention of Low Back Pain A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Why a Strong Core is Your Best Guard Against Back Pain"
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Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.