One of the challenges of having back pain is that you might feel limited in your ability to do cardio. This can be frustrating, discouraging and downright annoying. Fear not, with some trial and error you will be able to find new ways to get that cardio rush.
Cardio is Part of a Healthy Routine
Cardio is short for cardiovascular and refers to any activity that elevates your heart rate. An elevated heart rate helps your heart to get stronger. A stronger heart means a stronger body as your heart is at the center of your circulatory system. When your heart is able to pump oxygen more efficiently through your body, the rest of your body performs better. From repairing muscles to healing cuts to fighting off germs, having a strong heart is a necessary part of staying healthy. Back pain can limit your ability to do certain types of cardio but you are far from limited when it comes to getting your sweat on.
Low-Impact is Best
Moving your body vigorously is what makes cardio, cardio. But not all cardio is created equal. When you run, for example, there is a lot of impact involved. Every time your feet hit the ground, that impact is transferred up through your joints. Over time, this can wear away at your cartilage and, in the case of your back pain, create repetitive compression in the spinal column. This jolt to your spine when your feet strike the ground creates muscle tension and possible aggravation to your vertebral disks. So if you find your back gets sore after you go for a run, it might be best to hang up your running shoes for the time being. Instead, try activities that involve very little impact so you can keep your heart healthy without making your back condition worse.
The Best Cardio Activities for Back Pain
When it comes to doing cardio with back pain, the secret is to do activities that support instead of strain your back. Here are a few options that we recommend when it comes to getting your sweat on.
Swimming is quite possibly the best low impact cardio option out there. You can swim from the time you are two until you are 102 and it is easy to modify your workout depending on your body’s needs. The water supports your back while allowing you to push yourself and get your heart rate up. You can switch things up by using flutter boards, pull buoys and fins to keep your laps interesting.
If swimming laps is not your thing, maybe try out some water aerobics classes instead. Just like swimming laps, the body is supported by the water. This means you can move your body freely—even run—and elevate your heart rate while you do it. The water offers extra resistance for strength building as well.
For a more dry cardio option, cycling is a great no-impact way to exercise. You can do it on a stationary bike or outside; whatever you prefer. Cycling has the added benefit of strengthening your hip flexors which takes tension related pressure off your back.
Depending on the type of yoga you do, you can get quite a good cardio workout on your yoga mat. Look for classes labeled flow or vinyasa. These classes involve more movement—in combination with breath—that elevate your heart rate. If you really want to get your heart pumping, try hot yoga. Look for studios and/or classes that allow for students to take things at their own pace so that you can modify your practice to suit your back.
The Elliptical Machine
If you were a dedicated runner before you developed back pain, consider jumping on an elliptical machine. The elliptical machine was designed to be an alternative to running so you get the same motion as running with none of the impact. Sure it’s not the same as the open road but it will keep your body attuned to running so that you can hit the pavement when your back pain is gone.
Remember to Stretch it Out
While you may have to try something outside of your comfort zone to get back into your cardio routine, you and your back will be better off because of it. Staying mobile helps your back to stay limber and prevents stiffness and unnecessary tension. Exercise also produces the feel-good endorphins that will improve your mood and energy levels. Remember to be gentle with your back when you first start doing cardio again. Also, dedicate time at the end of your cardio session to stretching. Do this and you’ll be back on the running track in no time!