Should I exercise when my back hurts?

Michael Parsons, FNP
Family Medicine
With an acute injury, always give yourself a little time to feel better. You don’t want to exacerbate a recent injury by exercising like crazy. Work into this stuff slowly. If you’re an exercise person, eliminate high intensity type workouts. Your best friends are yoga, Pilates and swimming. They can get you a cardiac workout for sure, but they’re almost zero impact on the spine. Until you’re fully recovered, those are your best friends. Physical therapy is also one of the pillars we depend on for treatment. Physical therapists help you do exercises and also massage, ultrasound and heat therapy.
Michael C. Smatt, DC
Chiropractic Medicine
You should never exercise if your back hurts. Exercise will only cause more inflammation and cause more pain. Always look at symptoms as the body telling you something is wrong. Get examined by a chiropractor to see if there is any pressure on the nerves exiting the spinal column.

Your healthcare professional may recommend that you make some changes in your physical activities when you are experiencing back pain. In general, when pain is severe, you should avoid the following:

  • heavy lifting
  • twisting, bending forward, or reaching while lifting
  • sitting for long periods
A gradual return to normal activities, including exercise, is recommended. Your doctor can help you decide what level of activity is safe for you. You may want to discuss your doctor's recommendations with your employer or supervisor. Exercising when you have back pain can help you feel better faster and prevent more back problems. Even if you have mild to moderate low back pain, you can do the following without putting much stress on your back:
  • walk short distances
  • stretch and do flexibility exercises
  • use a stationary bicycle
  • swim

It is important to start slowly and to gradually build up the speed and length of time that you do the exercise. At first, your symptoms may get a little worse when you exercise or become more active. Usually, this worsening is nothing to worry about. However, if your pain becomes severe, contact your healthcare professional. Once you can return to normal activities comfortably, your healthcare professional may recommend additional aerobic and back exercises.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.