Spine and Fitness: Are You Physically Fit?

So what does it mean to be physically fit? Being physically fit allows you to handle daily physical strains your body undergoes without difficulty and with reduced risk for injury. Fitness can be described as the body's ability to endure the physical demands we put on ourselves.

However, the opposite can also be true. If you are not physically fit and your muscular system is not properly prepared to handle a situation, too much strain is placed on the body and can result in injury.

The Benefits of Exercise

Regular exercise is one of the best ways to assure you will achieve and maintain a healthy back and body. Lack of regular exercise, particularly as we grow older, increases your risks of a deconditioned body and muscular system including inflexibility, weakness, or both. Additionally, once a back injury has been sustained, it is likely that one will be forced to reduce their activity level which places less demand on the muscular system which leads to further deconditioning. When the spine (or any joint for that matter) receives less than the required support from the surrounding muscles, a vicious cycle ensues leading to recurrent injury and continued weakening of the muscular system. Following a back injury, it is critical to re-build the core muscles so you can reasonably handle the demands placed on your body.

Keep in mind, all exercise is not created equal and specific demands you place on your body are unique to your requirements. Your specific physical fitness goals can be achieved through an individualized exercise program under the direction of a physical therapist. Each person can benefit from a unique exercise program based on their musculoskeletal diagnosis and specifically, their back condition. Prescribed exercises are similar to prescribed medications. If the exercise is performed incorrectly or by the wrong person, the exercise can make your pain worse, not better. It is important to follow your specific exercise program and not engage in other activities before your back is ready for greater demands. One key to a successful exercise program is it's regularly performed as prescribed by your physical therapist if future pain or injury is to be prevented.

Program Design

Body conditioning should be gradual. Common sense is key since back pain reoccurrence is common to those who take on more than they should too soon. Early on, exercises in your individual exercise program are not necessarily designed to allow you to engage in vigorous activities. Once the basis of exercise is established, more vigorous training is added at appropriate intervals. Your physical therapist can help guide you through progressively strenuous activities and exercises to prepare you to perform higher level activities. Your physical therapist will also provide you with safety information for specific activities. This may include ways to modify certain activities or tasks to avoid re-injury.

Some of the best long term exercises include endurance activities which condition the cardiovascular system as well as the muscular system. Gradual progression of endurance activities is necessary for continued improvement.

Gradual progression allows you to safely achieve maximum benefit from the specific activity. Swimming can be excellent for returning to more activity because water can prevent strain off of your back. Other activities including walking, jogging, hiking, bicycling, cross country skiing, golf or other sports can be added when your body is ready for the increased demand.

Beware that some activities are inherently hazardous no matter how well you prepare. Activities that require sudden impact, violent twisting, or rough contact can cause injury. Higher levels of fitness will lessen risk during such movements; however, these are still high risk activities.

Common Sense is Required

Use plenty of common sense. If an exercise, movement or activity causes pain, consider it a warning to stop the activity. If pain starts while engaged in the activity, it could be the activity itself that is causing the pain and should be stopped or modified. Your physical therapist can help you modify the activity appropriately or advise you regarding specific types of exercises which can best prepare you to perform the activity safely and pain-free.

Using good posture counts and reduces risk during and after an activity. It is not only important to maintain proper posture and position during the activity, but also after the activity. People tend to relax in a flexed position such as slouching in a chair after an activity. This leads to loose and fatigued muscles to cool-down in a stretched position, which results in soreness from the muscle or ligaments once you straighten into a neutral or extended position. To avoid this, remember to maintain a straight or neutral position during the cool-down period.

Body Weight a Factor

Excess body weight has become one of the most common problems in our society. Improper diet and lack of exercise have become commonplace and leads to weight gain, a vicious negative cycle and a cause of back problems. The more weight you pack, the more weight the body must support. Excessive weight subjects joints including hips, knees, and the spine to great compressive forces as they support your body against gravity. Spinal discs and the small facet joints at each level of the spine are forced to provide extra support when compressed. Too much weight results in increased wear and tear and degenerative arthritis. This degeneration leads to continued spinal deterioration, poor posture and pain. This results in further reducing activity levels, stiffness and muscle weakness and subsequently more weight gain.

Eating healthy with proper portion controls and performing a personalized exercise program can meet your physical demands and will break this cycle leading to a more active lifestyle.