Exercising with a spinal condition or after spinal surgery can be difficult; since activities that jar the spine like weightlifting and high-intensity cardio are off limits, many people don’t know where to turn. It can feel like a Catch-22, since exercise is always an important component of back pain treatment.
For many with spinal issues, walking is the best option for exercise (barring access to a pool). It may not seem like enough to make a difference, but even moderate-intensity cardio helps you maintain and improve both cardiovascular and muscular strength. If you’re in good physical shape aside from your spine, you may even be able to walk at a fast pace, increasing the intensity of a walking workout. In general, it’s best to start slow and gradually work your way up to longer, more intense walks.
NOTE: If you have a spinal condition or have had surgery, always consult with a doctor or physical therapist about when it’s safe to start exercising and what type is best.
Walk more. Simple advice, right? Some of us need a little more structure to our exercise regimen. Fortunately, there are 2 basic programs out there to help get you walking more, consistently.
Some research (such as the study at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) indicates that people who take 10,000 steps a day are likely to hit the recommended guidelines for physical activity. This is highly variable, though; if you walk extremely slowly throughout the course of the day, for example, you may not see as many gains from 10,000 steps as you would from, say, 5,000 at higher intensity.
Still, the 10,000 steps program is a good way to get people moving more in general. Using a pedometer, you track the normal amount of steps you take in a day over the course of a week, thereby obtaining an average daily step count. The program advocates that you increase your daily step total by 500 steps each week until you hit the goal of 10,000 a day.
Hitting this goal may require you to set a chunk of time aside specifically dedicating to walking each day or most days. When you walk, be sure to consciously engage your abdominal and gluteal muscles; this will help turn walking into a low-grade core workout. Core strength is important to spine health.
If you’re looking for a little more structure, you may want to commit to a progressive walking schedule at least 5 days a week. Consider the schedule at www.thewalkingsite.com, which starts you off at either 15 or 20 minutes each day, gradually increasing the length of your walks to 40-60 minutes each day over a 12-week period.
This option is best for people who would like to specifically dedicate a period of time each day or most days to get exercise in. You can keep this routine interesting by walking in different neighborhoods, parks or woods; you could also choose to take the same course, gradually extending it each week.
Spinal injury exercise may be gentler than you’re used to or than you want it to be, but something is always better than nothing, and safety is always better than further injury. Walking can help your spine recover from surgery or bouts of lower back pain.