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Back pain is among the most common complaints, especially in people with mostly sedentary lifestyles. It is also one of the most common reasons for taking days off from work and taking painkillers. Doctors generally recommend moderate physical activity in order to keep back pain under control, but patients are often not advised about which exercise is the most beneficial and when and how they should perform it. Here are some explanations regarding that topic.

The most common misconception is that a person with acute back pain should engage in some sort of physical activity. This is an important thing to remember:

When back pain appears, any unnecessary movements should be avoided until the pain disappears or at least subsides.

The reason this is important lies in the pathophysiology of the back pain itself. Namely, some inappropriate movements cause small damages to the spinal vertebrae and fibrous discs between them. These damages cause compression and inflammation of the spinal nerves and other surrounding small nerve fibers, thus producing back pain in the affected region.

Immediately after experiencing the onset of back pain, you should take a rest and use painkillers, usually non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) until the pain disappears. This may take a day, but also a week or more, depending on the severity of the injury. Sometimes, corticosteroid injections are necessary in order to lower the inflammation in the affected region.


Only after the pain has disappeared, you can start thinking about exercises which are supposed to strengthen your spinal muscles, in order to prevent future micro-injuries. Some of these exercises can be prescribed by your physical therapist, and you should definitely practice them. If you want to engage in sports, you should only choose those activities that affect the spinal muscles symmetrically. Tennis and volleyball are certainly not recommended.


Running can be helpful, but be sure to choose the right running shoes, because all the pressure is translated from the feet, through the legs and pelvic bones towards the spine. Also make sure to keep the right posture and do not exert yourself too much, because when you get very tired, the movements become irregular and asymmetrical.


Swimming is considered a far better choice for persons with back pain problems, especially for overweight people for whom other exercises can cause joint pain. Swimming engages almost all muscles in the body and helps to strengthen spinal muscles, if practiced regularly. If you are not a good swimmer, injuries can also occur. Therefore, it is advised to take some swimming lessons and learn how to practice different swimming styles properly. Studies have confirmed that swimming lowers the occurrence of lower back pain in susceptible individuals.

Swimming is an aerobic exercise, which means that it is beneficial for the cardiovascular system and general health, so it can also be recommended to persons who have cardiovascular issues and problems with the respiratory system. There are only a few categories of people who should avoid swimming, such as persons diagnosed with epilepsy.

In essence, the type of physical activity is not as important as the timing and intensity of the training. Exercising too early after injury as well as very intense workout can worsen the condition.

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