Aging can be a pain in the back: Activities to keep your back strong

Jul 6, 2012, 8:17 a.m.

Is growing older turning out to be a pain in the back? If you answered "yes," you're not alone. Studies tell us that 8 out of every 10 adults experiences back pain at some point in their lives -- and the older we get, the greater the inevitability of being beset by back discomfort or all-out pain. All too often, back pain can cause us to cut back on or even eliminate the activities we love, such as traveling, gardening, or playing with the grandkids. Fortunately, you can partake of certain activities to strengthen your back.

Causes and Cures

So what causes back pain? The causes are actually pretty varied. Inactivity or aging -- or a combination of both -- can cause spasms from weakened muscles, and bulging disks and a narrowing of the spinal column can put pressure on nerves. All too often, we believe the only answer to stopping back pain when it starts is through surgery and medication. But through physical activity, you can help reduce back pain or prevent it entirely without resorting to surgery or medication. Here's a quick rundown of some activities to strengthen your back as well as some exercises to relieve back pain once it's set in.

Pump that iron. As we age, we lose muscle. Weight training is an excellent way to build and maintain that muscle. It also helps improve bone density, which can prevent fractures. Many people are afraid to get started weight training because it sounds like incredibly hard work, but that's just a misnomer. Remember, your goal doesn't have to be being able to bench press your grandkids, but just to keep your muscles strong and active. If you're unsure how to start, visit a personal trainer or talk to your doctor. Either one can help you put together a plan that will fit your needs and abilities.

Get moving. It's important to your back health to partake of activity that gets your heart pumping. Using your back muscles regularly through cardio exercise will help keep them strong. You can get cardio exercise from a number of activities, including swimming, bike riding, trail walking, housework, and of course aerobic exercise. Mix up your activities and get a few in every week. Pay attention to your posture and your back's response to your activities. If you feel a little pain or discomfort, adjust your activities to prevent injury.

Get flexible. Flexibility is very important in maintaining a proper alignment of the spine. Practicing Pilates or yoga gives the muscles in your core the strength to help support your back, and the flexibility to help prevent strains. Light Pilates and yoga are also used as exercises to relieve back pain.

Get a massage. If you're experiencing back pain, therapeutic massage can be pain relieving as well as incredibly relaxing. Massage helps loosen tight muscles, bring blood flow to damaged tissues, and reduce inflammation. Not to mention, you'll feel pampered and rejuvenated!

Physical therapy. This is another one of the activities that can strengthen you back, and despite how unappealing it sounds, it can actually be fun. A physical therapy routine may incorporate many of the activities mentioned above, but in a single session. Typically, physical therapy sessions take place a couple of times a week for six to eight weeks. Once they're completed, the therapist will recommend activities and exercises that will continue to ease your back pain and prevent the pain from coming back.

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