It’s been ages since doctors recommended resting when your back hurts, because with inactivity those muscles just get weaker, which can make the pain worse. Instead, you need to keep moving and build up your core muscles, which include your abdominal, back, hip and thigh muscles, through physical therapy, strength-training exercises, Pilates or yoga. Core training helps support the back and strengthen and stabilize the muscles that keep us upright, explains Robert S. Gotlin, D.O., director of the orthopedic and sports rehabilitation program at Beth Israel Medical Center, in New York City. The abdominal muscles are really the Grand Central Terminal for the spine. (Alpiner believes that regular, appropriate exercise and maintaining proper body mechanics and posture are the two most important things anyone can do for their back.) Meanwhile, aerobic exercise whether it’s walking briskly, swimming, biking or anything else that keeps your body in motion and your heart rate up, helps with overall conditioning and weight control, enhances blood flow and triggers the release of feel-good endorphins, all of which can ease back pain.
John Holden, 48, has had recurring back problems since 1995. To avoid going under the knife, he stepped up his exercise regimen with water aerobics, swimming and eventually yoga. In 2005, my yoga instructor advised me to give yoga a year before deciding whether to have an artificial disc put in,â€ recalls Holden, a public relations manager in Chicago. I’m glad I listened because I now have less pain and stiffness and greater range of motion than I have had in 15 years. It does require a lot of time and commitment, but it’s worth it. In fact, a new study at West Virginia University found that yoga improves the ability to function, eases pain intensity and lifts depression in people with chronic low back pain.