5 Ways Exercise Stops Back Pain

I realize that it's difficult to comprehend how increasing activity will give you great benefits in pain relief, especially if your back has been hurting for a while and keeps you from performing normal daily activities. Still, if done on a regular basis, physical activity and exercise will relieve your back pain and strengthen the muscles that support your back. In fact, sometimes medication should be the last consideration for long-term treatment for back pain. Exercises, along with weight loss and important lifestyle changes, are often most important in helping you to stay active. Once you stop moving around, your back problems -- and pain -- may escalate. Let's look at five ways exercise will help you end back pain once and for all.

1. Strong Muscles Give Support to the Back
Regular exercise such as walking, swimming, resistance exercises, stretching, or yoga helps to reduce back strain, improve posture and range of motion, and strengthen the muscles that support the back. Exercise can also prevent osteoporosis (which results in painful fractures), help maintain mobility, and prevent falls -- another risk factor for back pain.

When you train a muscle to work over its full range of motion, it will remember being stressed under those conditions and work efficiently when you need to lift or carry an object, play recreational sports, or simply get through your day more efficiently -- without pain. However, if you strengthen the muscle in a limited range, or ignore it and avoid exercise altogether, you will greatly limit the muscle's function, which can easily lead to injury -- and chronic pain.

2. Strong Abdominal Muscles Improve Posture
Strong abs help to improve posture and overall balance, and support the lower back. More than simply standing up straight, good posture means using your body correctly at all times -- when standing, sitting, sleeping, and exercising.

3. Increased Flexibility Aids in Movement
When your body is toned and flexible, you are less likely to get off-balance or fall, which can result in injury. When muscles are used, they become increasingly shortened. As you stretch and move the muscles through their full range of motion, you will counteract this shortening and keep muscles flexible. Improved flexibility also prevents abnormal force on the joints and helps to decrease injury.

4. Stronger Bones Prevent Fractures
Exercise strengthens your bones. Weight-bearing exercises -- such as walking, jogging, jumping rope, climbing stairs, tennis, and resistance workouts -- are all crucial to increasing bone mass and preventing osteoporosis.

5. Exercise Boosts Natural Painkillers in the Body
Exercise boosts the body's production of endorphins, pain-fighting molecules that may also be the reason for the well-known "runner's high." Endorphins also help to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. Studies show that exercise helps restore the body's neurochemical balance and triggers a positive emotional state.

Copyright © 2004 Harris H. McIlwain and Debra Fulghum Bruce

Excerpted from the book The Pain-Free Back: 6 Simple Steps to End Pain and Reclaim Your Active Life by Harris H. McIlwain and Debra Fulghum Bruce; (Owl Books; Paperback; May 2004; $15.00US/$21.95CAN; 0-8050-7326-4)

Author's Bio: 

Harris H. McIlwain, M.D., a board-certified rheumatologist, is the founder of the Tampa Medical Group. He has been researching and treating pain-related illnesses for more than twenty-five years and has published numerous articles and more than fourteen books on the subject. Town and Country has twice named him one of the Best Doctors in America. He lives in Temple Terrace, Florida.

Debra Fulghum Bruce, Ph.D., has written more than 2,500 articles and 65 books on various health topics. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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