Cardiovascular Exercise and Your Back

Most people are aware of the many benefits that regular cardiovascular (CV) exercise provides for the health of our hearts and minds, as well as our overall health.  However, you may not know how CV exercise also benefits our spine! 

  • Our blood stream provides our bodies with the nutrition and oxygen that is vital for our cells to heal, including those that make up the various structures of our spine.  When we’re engaged in CV exercise, two things happen:  We increase both the rate of our circulation and our blood volume.  As a result, we get more blood to the spine.  The more blood we get to our spine, the more nutrition and oxygen, which speeds the healing process of our painful neck and/or back! 
  • CV exercise also helps to decrease pain by decreasing inflammation, by calming our overly sensitive nervous system, and by releasing more endorphins into our bloodstream.  These are our “feel good” chemicals, which not only improve our overall outlook on life, but also play a significant role in pain reduction.   
  • The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of CV exercise per week. While the gold standard is still 20 – 40 minutes, 3 – 5x/week; recent research has shown that 2, 10 minute bouts of exercise is just as beneficial as one, 20 minute bout.  Meaning, everything you do adds up! 
  • Examples of CV exercise include bicycling, walking briskly, swimming laps, or using a variety of CV machines such as an elliptical machine or treadmill.  CV exercise should be performed at an intensity level that causes you to break a light sweat and make your heart beat faster. 
  • So, pat yourself on the back every time you do CV exercise, knowing that you’re not only doing good things for your heart, but for your back as well!   

Vehicle Ergonomics


Vehicle Ergonomics

Vehicle ergonomics can play a significant role in preventing and/or improving neck and back pain related to driving.  When we drive, all the fundamentals of ergonomics come into play:  posture, force, and repetition.  Just simply putting your hands on the steering wheel increases tension in the shoulders.  The most significant contributors to increased neck pain while driving is insufficient head room and inadequate positioning.  Maintaining good, balanced driving posture can reduce the amount of strain in the neck, shoulders and the lower back.  Here are some tips on how to reduce strain in your back and neck with driving:

Good, Balanced Driving Posture

  • Hips all the way back in the seat
  • Hips slightly higher than knees, if possible. Use a stress wedge if needed.
  • Midback supported by the backrest
  • Arms held in a neutral position and hands on the steering wheel at approximately 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions.
  • Feet can reach the gas and break pedals without reaching from the hips.

Vehicle Tips For Your Back:

  • A vehicle that sits high off the curb, an SUV, truck or van is better than a sports car
  • Enter a car by sitting down first, and then swing the legs in rather than climbing foot first into the vehicle.  Reverse this process when getting out, swinging both legs out first.
  • Automatic transmissions are less straining than manual
  • Adjust the lumbar support so it adequately supports the inward curve of your low back.  Or, you can add one using a small pillow, lumbar roll, or rolled up towel.
  • Use a foam wedge to elevate your pelvis and add extra support if your seat has lost some rigidity
  • The seat should be adjustable in tilt and height independently of each other, creating a space of 2-3 finger widths from the back of the knee to the seat

Vehicle Tips For Your Neck and Shoulders:

  • Avoid leaning forward as you sit in the seat, keep your shoulders back
  • Position the car seat so your arms are not fully extended
  • The back rest should come to shoulder height and not obstruct your rear vision
  • Choose an adjustable steering wheel, one that moves in/out and up/down, and tilt
  • Ensure you have proper head room and leg room
  • Look for a car with power steering

Dehydration and Back Pain

We’ve all heard it before, drink more water!  But many people are unaware of the importance of fluid intake as it relates to back pain and the overall role hydration plays in keeping our body healthy. Approximately 50-60% of our body weight is water weight. Our bodies need water to help with digestion and eliminate waste.

Water also helps to fill our cells with fluid which in turn cushions and lubricates our joints. The intervertebral discs of the spine are composed primarily of water, when we stand all day it results in compression of the disc and results in loss of water from the disc. When we lie down at night to sleep our body needs to re-hydrate our discs, which is where proper hydration comes into play!

Insufficient water intake can lead to muscle spasm and renal dysfunction.  By the time our brain registers that we are thirsty our bodies are already in a dehydrated state. Furthermore, as we age our thirst mechanism decreases so individuals may not ever register thirst. Also, many of the other drinks we consume i.e. coffee, tea, and pop all contribute to dehydration.

A simple equation to determine fluid needs – for every pound of body weight you need about a half an ounce of fluid intake per day. For example, if you weigh 140 pounds x 0.5 = 70 ounces; 70 ounces divided by 8 = 9 cups of fluid per day.