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Exercise for a Healthy Back

Is there a single recipe for maintaining a healthy spine? Absolutely not! Humans are complex. Each of our bodies has a different history. We come in many shapes and sizes. Some of us are sedentary while others are extreme athletes. Some have desk jobs, others do physical labor. Some have a history of low back problems and some currently suffer from back pain. While we cannot offer one approach that meets everyone’s needs, we can outline some principles for maintaining a healthy back.

Here’s what to do to maintain a healthy back: Stay strong, stay long and stay flexible.

Stay Strong: Develop functional strength. Functional strength helps you to perform the activities of your daily life, i.e., climbing stairs, carrying a package, pushing a shopping cart, as well as bending down to pick something up, reaching high to grab something off a shelf. Functional strength comes from physical activity (walking, running, bicycling, yoga, tai chi) not from lifting weights or working out with machines, which tend to focus on individual muscles and muscle groups. For functional strength, choose activities instead of exercise. A functionally fit person is able to participate in recreational activities and perform physical work of different kinds. Functional fitness does not have to do with having a 6 pack belly, or a chiseled body which is more about appearance than true fitness.

Functional activities help us to:

  1. Strengthen postural muscles that help to keep us upright.

  2. Increase our aerobic capacity, build stamina and help to strengthen the cardiovascular system.

  3. Strengthen the entire body and enhance our efficiency in work and play.

Stay Long: Maintain a healthy posture in sitting, standing and in all activities. Keeping your body well stacked vertically helps you to move with ease and efficiency. Vertical posture help you keep your length. When our posture becomes stooped, we lose verticality and we lose mobility.

Good sitting posture is critical to maintaining a healthy back. A few key elements to good sitting posture are:

  1. Feet flat on the floor with knees and hips at right angles.

  2. Firm seat base to support upright sitting.

  3. Maintain the lumbar lordosis.

  4. Break it up. Walk around every 30 minutes.

  5. Avoid sitting in couches, armchairs and beds. They don’t allow you to sit upright and maintain your lumbar lordosis.

Stay Flexible: When we are born, our bodies are highly flexible. As we age, we tend to stiffen up. The lumbar spine has three basic movements:

1. Flexion, or the ability to bend forward.

2. Extension or the ability to bend backward.

3. Lateral flexion or side bending (rotation is part of this movement.)

Why is flexibility important to spinal health? Our lives are filled with normal activities that require full mobility in our backs. When you lose spinal mobility (flexion, extension or lateral flexion) and try to perform normal activities, back pain is produced from the overstretch of spinal ligaments and shortened muscles.

Here’s what not to do:

Avoid crunches and leg lifts. Both shorten the hip flexor (psoas) and rectus abdominis muscles. The psoas attaches to the lumbar spine. When it shortens, the mechanics of the spine are distorted. Shortening the rectus abdominis shortens the waistline and also distorts the mechanics of the spine.

If you suffer with a low back or neck problem, seek a treatment that begins with a through Physical Therapy evaluation to reveal the history and nature of your particular back problem and how it developed. It’s recommended that you explore a custom tailored program that often includes Five Element Acupuncture, Rolfing and specific exercises that draw from the Physical Therapy, yoga and chi gong traditions.

Rebekah and David Frome started Frome Physical Therapy in 1984. It is a holistic physical therapy practice where we offer one on one, custom tailored treatments to meet the needs of our patients. Our specialties include Rolfing, acupuncture, yoga and tai chi. You can book an appointment online at or call 973.509.8464

The contents in this article are not meant to be diagnostic or prescriptive. Back problems are often complex, and a physician should always be consulted before choosing a course of treatment.

This article appears in the August 2019 issue of Natural Awakenings Magazine Monmouth Ocean edition. Click here to subscribe, thanks :)


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