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Exercise for Back Pain

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Updated August 28, 2009

As I write this article, I'm sitting at my desk with utterly perfect posture - body aligned, feet flat on the floor and abs engaged. Okay, I confess...the only reason I'm sitting so perfectly is because I'm writing about back pain and that always reminds me I should sit up straight. Find me ten minutes from now and I'll be sprawled out and hunched over as usual.

Back pain has a number of causes, but one of the most common happens to be what I'm doing right now and, most likely, what you're doing as you read this article: Sitting. If you spend a lot of your time sitting, you probably have the same problem I do - frequent back pain. Since sitting isn't something we're going to stop doing (at least not completely), we have to look for other ways to manage this kind of chronic back pain and exercise is just one of them.

Back Pain Action Plan

Managing and preventing back pain isn't easy, but it can be done as long as you're willing to make some changes in how you live. Your first step is to determine what's causing your back pain and if you have a condition that needs special treatment. These resources can help educate you about common back problems:

  • Back Pain Overview. This article covers different category of back problems from genetic conditions to common back injuries.
  • Causes of Lower Back Pain. Our Orthopedics Guide provides detailed information about the various causes of back pain.
  • Lower Back Pain. This comprehensive guide covers everything you ever wanted to know about lower back pain.

If you and your doctor have determined that your back pain is caused by lifestyle habits, read through the following common causes of lower back pain to see where you could make some changes. The included action plans will give you some ideas for how to manage and prevent lower back pain.

Sitting too much

How do you feel after you've been sitting for a long time? Do you feel stiff or sore? Does your back feel tight? What about that tension in your neck and shoulders? I'm a firm believer that sitting for long periods of time is one reason so many of us are in pain. You don't have to stop sitting completely, but there are ways to minimize the damage.

Action Plan. The following ideas will help you move a bit more as well as find ways to sit more comfortably. Choose at least one of them to try on a daily basis:

  1. Take short breaks. Set an alarm on your computer, PDA, etc. to go off every 30 minutes. Take at least one minute to stand, stretch, walk or change positions.
  2. Stand while you work. What tasks could you do while standing? Some ideas: talking on the phone, reading your mail, working on the computer (if you can raise your monitor) goofing off, etc. Choose just one on your list and make a new rule that you'll only do it while standing.
  3. Sit on an exercise ball or cushion. If you can get away with it, try sitting on an exercise ball for a few minutes several times throughout the day (all day may be a bit much on your lower back). You can roll around on it while sitting to help stretch the back and you'll be forced to avoid slumping to stay on the ball. If that's not an option, try a cushion like the one offered at Sissel, which promotes good posture.

What other ideas could you come up with to sit less throughout the day? Make your own list and choose one to work on each day until it becomes a habit.

Bad Posture and Tight Muscles

Bad posture is another big contributor to back pain. If you're like me, you start your day with good posture but gradually end up slumping, sprawling or hunching when your body gets tired. Monitoring posture can turn into a full-time job, but there are some simple ways to make small changes in your body position.

Continue Reading: Causes and Solutions for Lower Back Pain

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