Protecting Your Spine And Lower Back When Losing WeightPosted: February 13, 2019 in Getting Active by Craig Primack MD FACP
Many people can point to the moment when their fitness began to decline and their weight began to rise, and that was the moment that they injured their backs. Whether from a car accident, a fall, or simple overuse, ongoing back pain makes it much more difficult to exercise and efficiently burn the calories you take in.
That’s why you need to remember to think about safety and especially about taking care of your back when you start a new weight loss or fitness regime. It would be devastating to hurt yourself right at the start, or even worse, when you have begun to see some encouraging progress.
Your Back Has Been Working Hard Even When You Haven’t Been
If you have been living a sedentary lifestyle, particularly if you are overweight, your back has already been under strain. Holding the same few positions for long periods of time places unnatural stress on your muscles. On top of this, most people use poor body mechanics when they lift and move objects, placing further strain on the back.
Imagine carrying a barbell around with you, loaded with weights, all the time. When you stand, you lift it. When you sit, you hold it. When you walk, you carry it along. If you are 20, 50, 100 pounds overweight, for your back it is like carrying that barbell everywhere you go.
Taking Care of Your Back on Your Fitness Journey
As you work to get into better shape, there are two things to remember about taking care of your back.
First, by losing weight and building your strength, you are doing a very good thing for yourself and your long-term health. Your back will thank you for picking up barbells a few times per week instead of carrying them around 24/7!
Second, when embarking on your new program, take the time to learn to do the exercises correctly. This is very important! Nothing will derail your journey faster than throwing your back out in the first week or two. It may be worth the expense of hiring a coach for a few sessions to help you learn a safe and smart routine. It will certainly cost less than the doctors’ bills for a serious back injury.
In addition to exercising safely, remember to also protect your back outside of your exercise time. For example, when lifting heavy objects, whether a bag of groceries or a toddler, bend your legs, and use your leg muscles to assist with the lift. Bending from the waist and putting all the stress on the back while lifting is a recipe for eventual disaster.
How to Strengthen Your Back
Your fitness routine should include both cardio and strength-building exercises. The latter kind is the ones that will help your back the most. Look for exercises described as “core strength” or “core building” exercises. Your core is the muscles that hold you erect and carry you around.
The two key parts of your core are your back muscles and your abdominal muscles. Building your entire core will help you protect your back from injury in the long run. Obviously, stronger back muscles are a critical component of a strong core. But abdominal muscles are also very important for the extra support and stability they provide. If you have not been exercising enough, those muscles have gotten lazy and have been letting your back carry more of the load than it should.
Excellent core strength exercises include yoga, Pilates, bodyweight calisthenics, and lifting weights. There are numerous DVDs, streaming programs, and apps that can lead you through routines specifically designed to strengthen your core.
Treating Back Injuries
As you start your new exercise routine, your back will likely be sore sometimes. Mild soreness is natural and should not be a problem. Treat it with heat pads and an over-the-counter painkiller. Ibuprofen is a good choice because, in addition to easing pain, it also reduces the swelling that contributes to the pain.
If you have a more serious injury with a level of pain that hampers your movement, take a day or two off from serious exercise. But within 24 hours, do your best to get up and walk around for 15-20 minutes, several times per day. Being absolutely stationary for too long will worsen the injury and make it harder to heal.
For moderate to severe pain, consider seeing a chiropractor. Your injury may have thrown your back out of alignment, and your chiropractor can make adjustments that reduce pain and enhance proper healing. In fact, it’s a good idea to see a chiropractor regularly even if you are not experiencing pain, as everyday living also causes your back to move out of proper alignment, and regular adjustments can protect your back from injury in the long term.
Losing excess weight is great for your back, and so is regular exercise that builds your core strength. Just remember the first rule: do it safely!