Exercise is essential to keep the body moving, flexible and strong. This is particularly important when it comes to the back. The spine connects the various parts of the body together though a structure of strong bone, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves and their roots. The spine protects the spinal cord which links the brain to the rest of the body, enabling it to control systems and processes to enable the body to work properly.
The spine is made of hard bone, but its structure, made up of 24 moveable vertebrae, is flexible and enables movement such as bending and twisting (carefully). A further 9 vertebrae are fused together as part of the sacrum and coccyx which connect the spine to the pelvis. The vertebrae are not all the same shape and size and start small at the neck while the largest bones are at the base. The vertebrae are grouped into four parts: cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral. The bones are numbered to show the vertebral position along the spine. There are 7 cervical vertebrae, 12 thoracic vertebrae and 5 lumbar vertebrae, each separated by an intervertebral disc. These are made of cartilage and serve as shock absorbers. They enable the movement of the back.
The shape of the spine is a natural s-shaped curve which strengthens it, helps balance and can absorb shock from movement. Muscles and ligaments support the spine, keeping it upright and controlling the movement required for activity and rest. Muscles and ligaments are given names that reflect their shape, location, and function. Ligaments help to restrict movement to help avoid injury.
Exercise keeps the body fit, flexible, strong and can reduce pain and inflammation. Following recommended guidelines for exercise can reduce the risk of illness and help to keep the body fit and healthy. When the body exercises, it encourages the spinal discs to swell with water, then squeeze it out. This exchange of fluids helps to distribute the nutrients to the discs and keep them healthy. It also helps to reduce swelling in soft tissues that surround injured spinal discs. If a body is not being exercised, then swelling could increase, the discs could become degenerated and painful.
Exercise can help to keep the ligaments and tendons moving and flexible. Flexible fibres can help prevent stress and tears which are the cause of back pain and injury. Muscles that are regularly exercised are stretched and strengthened, and can be repaired by exercise. These muscles help to support the vertebrae, and need to be strong themselves in order to do the job properly. It is important to exercise regularly so that soft tissues are not strained and can provide good support for the spine. Stretches are also good for the back, helping to relive stress. Exercise can help lubricate the synovial joints which can help with ease of movement. Simple back exercises are recommended to help recover injured backs and enable them to regain movement and a reduction in pain.
Exercises that are not helpful to injured backs include weightlifting, climbing or squats: these can put more stress on the back. High impact exercise, including aerobics, running or jumping can also exacerbate back conditions. Exercises that are recommended to help strengthen the back include swimming, cycling, using a ski machine or elliptical walker and fast walking.
Before beginning an exercise program, it is wise to check with your GP. This is particularly important if you have been having problems with your back.