The Southeastern Spine Institute

Just by their nature, all sports put pressure on the spine and it’s wise to learn how to protect your back no matter what sport or exercise you choose. It’s well accepted that exercise and sports can improve your overall sense of well-being and can help to heal and strengthen your back.

Maybe you’re thinking about getting back into a sport that you loved after you have back surgery. Or perhaps you’re tired of always being wary of physical activity because of previous back issues and want to feel stronger and freer. Sports and exercise in themselves should not be considered safe without learning the best way to protect your back before, during and after sports. Your doctors and physical therapy team at Southeastern Spine Institute (SSI) can help you find the right level of activity to keep you safe and find sports best suited to your needs.

What to Do First

If you have a bad back or are recovering from a back injury, get your doctor’s approval before you begin to do any exercises. Not all exercises are safe for your back and your medical providers, including therapists, will provide you with a comprehensive recovery plan. The main goal of this recovery plan is to provide you with the knowledge and understanding of safe exercises that protect and strengthen your back while you heal. These conditioning exercises include:

  • Exercises that gently warm your muscles
  • Stretching exercises for more flexibility
  • Strengthening exercises especially for your core muscles

Taking these simple steps may be challenging in the beginning. But if you want to be prepared for sports or exercise, they should not be disregarded. Proceed slowly and gradually increase your reps and the intensity of your routine. Slower is safer, builds strength and conditions your body as you become better equipped to protect your back and safely take part in sports and exercise again.

Sports and Exercises to Avoid

In general, you should avoid any sports or exercises that put your back in a vulnerable position such as a forward bend. Sports that require you to jump or forcefully twist should also be on your taboo list. High impact aerobic exercises jar the spine and should be untaken carefully. Other sports to avoid include:

  • Football
  • Tennis
  • Basketball
  • Golf
  • Gymnastics

While bicycling offers aerobic conditioning, it offers nothing for your back. It leaves you vulnerable to further back injury by curving you forward over your bike while you ride and weakens the back by over-stretching the muscles. If bicycling is your sport, then make sure you are doing exercises to strengthen your back on a daily basis. Exercises that are unsafe for your back include: Sit-ups, leg lifts and toe touches.

Safer Sports and Exercises

Depending on your interpretation of the word “sports” and your need for adrenaline rushes, some sports are safer than others when you have a bad back. But no matter what you do, even so-called “safe sports” require you to actively protect your back.

If you have a strong need for competition, a traditional game of Croquet might be worth looking into while you gain strength. One of the most important exercises you can do to strengthen your back to prepare you for any activity is core strengthening work. There’s a wide variety of safe core strengthening exercises that should keep you from getting bored, but you must have strong abs to safely participate in any sport. Safer sports include:

  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Tia Chi
  • Low impact aerobics
  • Yoga
  • Resistance training
  • Skiing

Depending on where you are in your recovery, the words “safe sports for bad backs” may send chills up your spine. But with good preparation including warming-up, stretching and following your medical team’s recovery plan, you can safely engage in sports and exercise — and protect your back.