Exercise may be the last thing you want to think about when your back aches, but specialists say that exercise is the best thing going for chronic back pain. "For people who suffer daily from back pain, especially if the pain varies throughout the day, exercise can be beneficial," says Roger Minkow, M.D. If you're under a doctor's care for back pain, be sure to get the okay before you begin. Here are some doctor-recommended exercises.
• Play press-up. Press-ups are something like half of a pushup. "Lie on the floor on your stomach. Keep your pelvis flat on the floor and push up with your hands, arching your back as you lift your shoulders off the floor," says Dr. Minkow. This helps strengthen your lower back. Dr. Minkow recommends doing it once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
• Move into a crunch. While you're on the floor, turn over onto your back and do what's called a crunch sit-up. Lie flat with both feet on the floor and your knees bent. Cross your arms and rest your hands on your shoulders. Raise your head and shoulders off the floor as high as you can while keeping your lower back on the floor. Hold for 1 second, then repeat.
• Swim on dry land. You don't need a deep-pile rug to swim on your floor. Lie on your stomach and raise your left arm and your right leg. Hold for 1 second, then alternate with your left leg and right arm as if you were swimming. This will extend and strengthen your lower back, says Dr. Minkow.
• Get into the pool. "Swimming is great exercise for the back," reports Milton Fried, M.D. "A good exercise for acute lower-back pain is to get into a warm pool and swim."
• Put your mettle to the pedal. "Ride a stationary bike with a mirror set up so that you can see yourself," says Dr. Minkow. "Be sure to sit up straight without slouching. If you have to, raise the handlebars so that you're not bent over forward."
• Forget "no pain, no gain." Be careful and know your limit with these and any other exercises, Dr. Minkow advises. "If the exercise you're doing hurts or aggravates your condition, don't do the exercise anymore," he says. "You're not going to improve anything by gritting your teeth and doing one more repetition. If you feel fine the day after or 2 days after you exercise, then it's safe to continue exercising."