When you've got back pain, any exercises where you round your spine are a no-no. Here are the exercises to avoid if you want to protect your aching back.

Up to 60% of adults experience back pain at some point in their life, and, for the most part they’re totally unaware that they’re exacerbating their back pain by making bad exercise choices.

When you've got back pain, the last thing you should be doing is rounding the spine (and reversing the natural lumbar curve).

The moment we bend forward or hunch the back, whether sitting or standing, the load on the disc space increases dramatically, putting a huge amount of pressure on the lower lumbar vertebra.

It may come as some surprise that some of the more common exercises are actually some of the biggest culprits.

1. Toe-touching; and twisting the spine:

Repetitive toe touching rounds the spine and puts pressure on the lumbar curve. Performing this repeatedly places pressure on the intervertebral discs, which leads to degeneration.

2. Sit-ups/crunches

While sit-ups used to be a favourite for working the belly, this move only works 20 percent of your abdominal muscles and puts a huge strain on the back. Pulling on the neck while crunching hurts the upper back and your lower back gets hit when your hip flexors pull on the spine to raise your upper body off the ground.

So instead of opting for a gruelling sit-up routine, consider planking. This works your entire body.

3. Double leg raisers

This is another favourite in the gym, but again is a common exercise that can stress the lower lumbar and sacroiliac joints. For most people, it’s nearly impossible to keep the back from arching as both legs raise and lower. When this happens, the back hyper-extends, placing stress on the spine and increasing the risk of injury.

If you’re set on doing double leg raises, try placing your hands underneath your lower back for added support, moving in a slow, controlled way. If you have any back pain, simply avoid this exercise.

4. Spinning with a rounded back

Mountain biking and cycling with an upright posture honours the correct lumbar curve and doesn’t create undue stress on the back. However, leaning forward on a spinning bike or doing long-distance road cycling may put stress on the lower spine and exacerbate tension in the area.

Very often cyclists who complain of numbing fingers and numb toes while riding are actually suffering from the effects of locked-up muscles that have tightened in response to the body’s rounded posture.

5. Running

Running is a high-impact exercise. The faster you run, the harder your feet hit the ground. This repetitive jarring can be very hard on the joints and the spine.

Studies such as the one published in the September 1986 issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that the spine shrank by several millimeters after a 6km run, and the shrinkage was directly proportionate to running speed.

Although the relationship of spinal shrinkage to spine pain isn’t fully known, those results show how much stress running can put on the spine. If you experience chronic back pain, running may not be an option.

Successfully managing back pain:

Remember: You can't build strength or tone into stressed or tight muscles!

When one is experiencing pain or tension from body stress being present in the body, the first approach is to release the tightly locked up muscles to allow the muscle tone to relax back to a more normal tone. It’s useful to work with a body stress release (BSR) practitioner.

When the muscles have had an opportunity to release, you’ll be able to build up strength through well directed exercise such as:

    • Swimming; walking; Pilates and core exercises that a BSR practitioner can give you.

    • Training with an instructor who understands the biomechanics of the spine.

    • Managing your limits.

In doing exercise, remember to listen to your body. Pain is the warning signal that you are starting to push yourself beyond your individual limit into “overload”.

When you feel pain, stop or adapt the activity – don’t try to ignore the pain or “work through it” or supress it with painkillers. In the long run, a little rest goes a long way in terms of bouncing back stronger.

Although the expression “slipped disc” is often used, it’s an inaccurate description. The inter-vertebral discs cannot slip, as they’re firmly bonded to the surface of the vertebral bodies.

However, with incorrect use over time, or as the result of an accident, a compressive force may cause the gel-like centre of the disc to protrude through the fibrous outer cartilage. The resultant bulge, called a prolapsed or herniated disc, may induce pressure on the spinal nerves.

The effects may range from pain to loss of sensation to nerve function disorder, leading to muscle weakness and loss of tendon reflexes in the back area or referring into legs and feet.

Case in point – Simon
Simon, an engineer aged thirty-five, had pain radiating from his lower back into his groin, and the pain in his right leg was so severe that, at times, he couldn't stand on it.

He had been forced to give up his sports: running and golf. An MRI scan showed a prolapsed disc in his lumbar spine, and the specialist advised disc surgery.

Simon was strongly opposed to having an operation, and decided to try BSR. His buttock, thigh and calf muscles were extremely tense, as well as his diaphragm, and his back was very sensitive to touch.

After the first session, he felt some hope, as the pain started to come and go, and he was aware of tingling in both feet.

But he felt worse after the second, with the sensation of electric currents running up and down his right leg. The practitioner assured him that this was a positive sign, as nerve communication was restoring in the process of unlocking the muscular stress.

A few sessions later, and he was completely pain-free. However, his lower-back muscles felt tight, and he was given an exercise to strengthen his abdominal muscles.

Soon he was able to play golf again and began to understand the importance of regular BSR for health maintenance, so he kept on seeing his practitioner every 6 weeks.

Four years later, Simon had another MRI scan, and the surgeon was astonished to see no sign of disc prolapse!

This case study demonstrates that, if the stored tension around a prolapsed disc is released, the compression on the disc space is relieved.

Image via Thinkstock.

[hr style="single"] Read more about managing back pain:

>> Why is back pain so common?

>> Exercises to stretch and strengthen posture

>> Back pain: chairs, phones and other enemies of your back