The Back Story: Exercises to Help Back Pain

By Meghan Rabbitt

When back pain strikes, you may be tempted to grab an ice pack and hit the couch. Instead, pick up a couple dumbbells and hit the gym. A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that those with chronic back problems reported a 60 percent improvement in pain and in their ability to function after a 16-week exercise regimen that included resistance training. By contrast, aerobic workouts didn’t cut it—that group only saw a 12 percent improvement in symptoms. While this is encouraging news, Jack Stern, MD, a neurosurgeon with more than 30 years of experience treating the spine (both surgically and nonsurgically), says when your pain is acute, the best thing you can do is listen to your body. “You don’t want to do anything that’s going to make your pain worse,” says Stern. “But as the pain becomes more manageable, strengthening your core and back muscles with resistance and isometric exercises can be incredibly beneficial.” Stern’s favorite moves:

Shoulder Blade Squeeze
Sitting on an armless chair and holding a 2- to 5-pound dumbbell in each hand, keep your chin tucked in and your chest high as you pull your shoulder blades together. Hold for five seconds, then relax; repeat three times.

Weighted Bridge
Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, 2- to 5-pound dumbbells resting on your pelvis. Keeping your shoulders and head relaxed on the floor, tighten your abs and glutes as you raise your hips to form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Hold this position while you take three deep breaths, then return to the starting position. Repeat three to five times.