By Dr. Joseph Cilea
“Doc, I try to do my exercises but I have to hit the ground running in the morning….to get the kids ready for the school bus….I have morning meetings….I’m not a morning person….I’m pulled in 100 directions during the day….I forget about them until I’m in bed….I exercise on my job and that’s enough….”
I’m sure we’ve all rationalized our inability to keep up with exercises, especially after our episode of low back pain (LBP) subsides. In fact, only about 4 percent of LBP patients continue doing their exercises after their pain subsides. That means 96 percent of us with chronic, recurring low back pain do not exercise even though we know we should. We feel bad, even guilty for not exercising. So, what can we do to “trick” ourselves into being more compliant with our low back exercises?
First, let’s accept the fact that most of us cannot consistently “fit in” exercise into our busy schedules. With that said, the timing of when to do the exercise may be more important than even doing them at the same time every day. In other words, do a few exercises when you need them the most. For example, if you’re working at a computer for more than 1 hour, and you start to feel back pain from the prolonged sitting – especially if your work station set up is less than ideal – do one or two sitting exercises right at your work station, before your back pain gets any worse. If you wait too long, the exercises may not be of much benefit. Setting a timer next to your screen that beeps every hour is a good reminder to do one or two simple exercises and only takes a minute or two. Many inexpensive digital watches can be set to beep on the hour/every hour or, you can set a “timer” to beep after 60 minutes as a “gentle” reminder. Some cell phones also have a timer feature. Here are three sit down low back exercise options (try them all and decide which one(s) feel most productive/helpful):
1. “Crossed Knee Stretch”: Cross your legs; pull the crossed knee towards your opposite shoulder (feel the pull in your buttocks); arch your low back and at the same time, twist or rotate to the side of the crossed knee. Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat up to 3 times. Repeat this on the opposite side.
2. “Sit Twists”: Reach across with your right hand and grasp your left leg at mid-thigh. Twist/rotate your back to the left and pull with your arm. Hold 5-10 seconds / repeat 3 times. Repeat this on the opposite side.
3. “Sit Floor Touches”: Bend over as if to touch the floor or tie a shoe. Hold 5-10 seconds.
If you do the math, it would take a minute for #1 and #2, 30 seconds for #3 (total 2.5 min.). If that’s too long, hold for 5 seconds. If that’s too long, do 1 rep, not 3. You get the idea…make it work! Modify the dose to fit your schedule or ability to stretch. If you do this at the time you start to feel tight or sore, you can prevent a LBP episode!
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