If you're among the half of working Americans who'll get a backache this year, you need to get moving. Exercise is key to healing your current backache and preventing the next one. Some types of exercise, however, are bad news for backs. Others are just what the doctor ordered. 

The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) says, "Stretching and an active lifestyle are often recommended to help reduce back pain and speed the recovery process following an injury." They recommend overall fitness and a good cardiovascular exercise program to prevent back pain.

Health care professionals recommend 20 to 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three to four days per week. The ACA advises patients with back issues that, "until you've recovered from back pain, select low-impact activities that burn calories, but won't place undue stress on your joints." Walking, swimming, biking, the treadmill and elliptical trainers are good choices, but even they can cause back pain when used with poor posture. Let's take a look at what's good and what's bad for backs.


  • Bad: Your head juts out in front, shoulders are hunched forward, your abdomen pooches and your low back is swayed. You wear unsupportive shoes and walk on concrete. When you walk on the treadmill, you walk so fast you grab on to the sidebars for balance and stability.
  • Good: Your shoulders and head are back, your spine is straight, and your abdomen is tight. You wear well-constructed walking shoes and stick to non-concrete surfaces whenever possible. When you're on the treadmill, you hit your stride at a pace that's fast enough to rev up your heart and respiratory rates, but not so fast that you have to grab on.


  • Bad: Your back and legs are curled into a paperclip shape while you hunch over the handlebars.
  • Good: Your seat and handlebars are adjusted so your back, head and shoulders are in a straight line. Or, choose a recumbent or stationary bike with a seat rest.


  • Bad: You twist your neck and spine back and forth while swimming laps or arch your spine when your upper body comes out of the water.
  • Good: You try out several strokes and find the ones that gives you the best, non-impact, weightless conditioning without putting too much stress on your low back. Or, try water aerobics classes.

Elliptical Training

  • Bad: You lock your knees, relax your abdomen and hunch forward, clutching the bars for stability.
  • Good: Your back is straight, your abdomen is tight and your head is in line with your shoulders.

Follow your cardio-workout with gentle stretching, but avoid straight leg lifts, traditional sit-ups and straight-leg toe-touches or back bends.  Good choices are yoga exercises like bridge, cobra and mountain poses. Never bounce or "pulse" your stretches and stop if you feel pain or tingling. 


The American Chiropractic Association