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Is it Safe to Exercise with Back Pain or a Sore Back?


Updated May 23, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: Is it Safe to Exercise with Back Pain or a Sore Back?
Going to the gym may not be the best thing for back pain. What can you do when you want to exercise, but you have a sore back?

Dr. Andre Panagos, physiatrist and co-director of the Spine Center at New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, encourages his patients to "take ownership of their bodies." Panagos says patients themselves are in the best position to know when to stop exercising and seek medical care instead.

If your back pain is mild, you could try some home therapies such as ice, massage, heat or over-the-counter pain medications to help you through this time. NBA star Kobe Bryant had to do that, and he was able to go on as scheduled, without missing a single game.

If the back pain increases when you try to exercise, it's best to stop exercising for a few days before trying again. If you think you may have a torn ligament or a broken bone—or have otherwise injured yourself significantly—see a doctor. In addition, if have a fever, have experienced a traumatic event, or have unexplained weight loss, see your doctor to rule out more serious causes of pain.

Once a significant injury or other cause has been ruled out, many people find that modification of their exercise routine is all they need. You may consider water exercise, which can take the load off your joints but still give you a full workout. Or continue with your normal routine, but for less time and/or with less intensity. And some gentle prepatory Pilates or beginners' yoga may help to release muscle spasms and restore you to your former vigor.

Related: What is Fear of Movement?****Should You Stretch An Acute Back Injury?

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